By Lorne Brown
Patsy Gallagher 1939-2006
The labour and socialist movements in our country suffered a grave loss when Patricia (Patsy) Gallagher died on June 19, 2006, of complications after surgery for lung cancer. She was only 66.
Patsy played a major role in many of the political and social struggles of her lifetime. She was born in Saskatchewan to a working-class family in a cultural milieu rare in Canada today. It was mainly a socialist culture and some of Patsy's relatives were Communists. It was in this atmosphere that Patsy developed a solid class and political outlook, which guided her throughout her life.
Patsy was active in many of the progressive political causes of the 1960s, including the nuclear disarmament movement and the peace movement. In the mid-1960s she worked with the students' union and the library at what was then the Regina Campus of the University of Saskatchewan. While there she was also involved in forming a CUPE local. It was her work with the students that led Patsy to work with the Canadian Union of Students (CUS) in Ottawa at the end of the decade. It was the peak of the radical student movement in Canada, then, and Patsy's political background and experience made her much more sophisticated than most student leaders of the day.
Like many of us, Patsy was also active in the New Democratic Youth and the NDP. This activity included work with The Commonwealth, the official paper of the Saskatchewan CCF-NDP. This was the beginning of Patsy's experience as a political journalist, which would remain a part of her work for the rest of her life.
The 1970s would be a very creative period in Canadian left and labour history, and Patsy was in the thick of it. She played a key role in the Waffle from the time it was launched with the Manifesto for an Independent Socialist Canada in 1969.
In the mid-1970s Patsy was one of the founders of Saskatchewan Working Women (SWW), an organization composed mainly, but not exclusively, of trade-union women. They fought for publicly funded childcare, equal pay for work of equal value, better labour laws, and a greater role for women within unions.
In 1976 Patsy began what would become 25 very busy years as a full-time trade union official. She was Executive Assistant to the President of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour from 1976-1982. This was followed by nineteen years with the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union (SGEU) as education officer, staff representative, director of membership services and finally as executive director of operations, a position from which she retired in 2001. These were years, especially the 1970s and 1980s, which saw tremendous changes in the labour movement. Unions expanded and public-sector unions came into their own with women playing an increasing role. Ideological tensions within unions were many and the struggles fierce. There were many debates about how Labour should relate to the NDP, which governed Saskatchewan from 1971-82 and again from 1991 to the present.
With Patsy's passing her contributions to labour politics have been much praised. Barb Byers, one of Patsy's old comrades and now a CLC executive vice-president, spoke for many when she said in an interview with the Regina Leader-Post, "She was a fierce, funny feminist, trade unionist and socialist. She really believed that if we were much more active and took up the cause for people, then we could make a difference in the world. The world just isn't going to be the same"
Photo: Lorne Brown on left, Pat Gallagher on right.
NUPGE mourns PG
Briarpatch mourns PG