Angus MacLeod was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, on October 20th, 1899. He was the son of Daniel and Rachel MacCauley. In 1919, he married Margaret Nunn. They had two sons, Edward and Angus and six daughters, Margaret, Doris, Vivian, Donna, Lola and Sylvia.
MacLeod learned about the trade union movement early in life. He often recalled the days when he was going to grade school and his father would scoot the kids upstairs to their bedrooms when some men were coming to the house. He knew that his Dad was organizing unions and wanted to make sure that when the kids were questioned on the street the next day, they honestly couldn’t say who had visited their house the previous evening.
In 1916, MacLeod graduated from the Sydney Academy and became employed as an apprentice in a local machine shop. The shop was organized by the International Association of Machinists. There he joined his first union and began what would turn out to be a lifetime of service to the trade union movement.
In 1917, he moved on, taking a job at the Sydney Steel Works, working in the blast furnace department. There he worked ten hours on day shift and thirteen hours on night shift, all at straight time. In 1919, he helped to organize a local of the United Steel Workers of America at the Steel Works. When the Sydney Steel Works closed down in 1921, MacLeod moved his family to Saint John, New Brunswick, where he found work at Fleming’s Foundry. Later that same year he secured a job in the tool room at the Saint John Dry Dock.
In 1929, Macleod was instrumental in organizing the Dry Dock workers into Local 717 of the International Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Welders and Helpers of America and was elected the financial and corresponding secretay of the local. In the 1933 negotiations the Dry Dock demanded a decrease in wages of ten cents per hour. The union refused to take the decrease and the company closed the dock. When the Dry Dock reopened some months later there was no job for Angus MacLeod, who happened to be the chairman of the negotiating committee.
Down, but not out, MacLeod found work grinding spices and roasting peanuts for the G.E. Barbour Company. There he received fifteen dollars for a forty-eight hour week. He continued in this employment until 1940. There was no union at Barbour’s and as MacLeod put it, “the job helped me make it though the depression.” He recognized that others were not so lucky, and during this period of time he organized the unemployed to help them improve their relief benefits that they were receiving from the city. When his employer discovered he was the spokesman for the unemployed and was about to head-up a delegation to City Hall they threatened him with dismissal. But without hesitation, Angus advised his boss that he would lead the delegation and accept the consequence.
In 1940, MacLeod left Barbour’s and went to work at the Saint John Iron Works. It was there that he got involved in the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilders Workers of Canada, Local 3 and his union career began in earnest. He served as president of the Local and assisted in organizing the workers at the Dry Dock into the same union.
MacLeod supported the war effort and as president of Local 3 he was involved in a war related industry. While acknowledging that workers were prepared to accept their responsibility and make sacrifices in an effort to win the war, he served notice that workers were not prepared to go back to the conditions they endured during the depression.
In a 1943 message to the membership of Local 3, he wrote, in part: “Whatever privileges labour may demand in the future will be made in the knowledge that labour, by its sacrifices, unequalled by any other section of society, is deserving of these privileges. Organized labour refuses to believe that after this war we are going to be faced with the same conditions which existed before the war. We know that if the vast energies now used to wage war is utilized in the post-war period in the building of a permanent peace and in providing everyone with a decent standard of living, nothing will be impossible, and we are determined that this shall be done.”
In 1945, MacLeod was hired as the full-time New Brunswick representative for the Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL) and became a formidable force on the New Brunswick labour scene. He became president of the Maritime Marine Workers Federation and also served as president of New Brunswick Council of Labour (CCL). He assisted in the formation of the Saint John and District Labour Council (CCL) and served for a time as its president. It was during this period of time that he became involved in a number of high profile union organizing drives.
MacLeod returned to work at the Saint John Iron Works in 1951 and continued to hold key positions in the trade union movement. He was president of the New Brunswick Council of Labour (CCL) when it merged with the New Brunswick Federation of Labour in 1957. His organization was the smaller of the two, but MacLeod reminded the convention delegates of the old saying, “that it is not the size of the dog in the fight; it is the size of the fight in the dog that counts.” In 1959, he was elected president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour and that same year was elected president of the Saint John and District Labour Council (CLC). In 1960, he became Business Agent for Local 3 of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of Canada.
He was often called upon by local unions to be their representative on conciliation or arbitration boards. He willingly served on these boards and rarely accepted any remuneration for his service. He also served on numerous civic boards or commissions, including: the Regional Advisory Committee of Unemployment Insurance, the Saint John Family Welfare Committee and the Committee for the Survey and Investigation of Private Nursing Homes for the Aged.
Politically, MacLeod was generally recognized as a socialist thinker and one of the more progressive labour leaders in the province. However, in 1960 he ran as a Liberal candidate in the provincial election. But this appears to have been an aberration, as there is no evidence to support the suggestion that he was ever a permanent supporter of the Liberal Party.
MacLeod was known as a man who was very knowledgeable on labour legislation and contract terms. He would often put his adversaries on the defensive by quoting contract terms or legislation off the top of his head, while others were scrambling to find the appropriate document. He would often quote Robbie Burns or other classical poets or writers to make his point.
Following MacLeod’s retirement, the Saint John labour movement held a testimonial dinner in recognition of his long and faithful service to the trade union movement. On June 16, 1972, hundreds of people crowded into the Admiral Beatty Hotel to pay tribute to a man who had spent over fifty-five years working tirelessly to improve the lives of working people. Speaker after speaker praised him for his unselfish commitment of serving others. When it became MacLeod’s turn to speak, he summed up his service to the trade union movement this way, “What I’ve tried to do and what I’ve always tried to do is to do what I could do. If I’ve done that, I’ve done it willingly without any hope of any exceptional recognition. I’m one of those who believe that the trade union movement owes me nothing. I owe them everything that I’ve got.”
Macleod was involved in many tough fights during his years as a labour leader. Some notable encounters were: the 1944-47 organizing of the Irving Veneer Plant in Saint John, the 1947-48 attempts to organize the Irving Oil workers in Saint John, and the bitter 1961 strike at the Saint John Dry Dock. In spite of the many battles he fought over the years, he never held anything personal against his opponents. When he was asked in a 1976 interview what he thought of Mr. K.C. Irving, he replied, “I fought with Irving down the line, but I never considered Irving anything more or less than a representative of his group. As far as I was concerned he was just another man. I didn’t care for him; I didn’t hate him or despise him or anything like that. He was just a product of his environment, the same as I was. I hated the bloody system. That’s what I hated, the system, not the individuals in it.”
In the latter part of Macleod’s career he was often referred to as the “Grand Old Man of Labour.” When he passed away, on December 13, 1980, at the age of eighty-one, an editorial in a local newspaper described him in these terms:
“He was short, with a stock of thick hair that turned white over the years, topping a craggy face with heavy, expressive black eyebrows. He was an orator of the old school, who could cite contract terms, court judgements and classical writers or poets with equal readiness. He was a skilled and tough negotiator and an impressively successful conciliator. His was the last generation of men that were dedicated to go out on their own free time to work for the labouring class. Angus MacLeod could have done well in a number of fields, but he decided to work for his fellow man.”
At the time of his death he was survived by his wife Margaret, two sons, six daughters and several grandchildren. His remains rest in Fernhill Cemetery, in East Saint John.