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The Italians Who Built Toronto

Italian Workers and Contractors in the City’s Housebuilding Industry, 1950–1980


Stefano Agnoletto

After World War II, hundreds of thousands of Italians emigrated to Toronto. This book describes their labour, business, social and cultural history as they settled in their new home. It addresses fundamental issues that impacted both them and the city, including ethnic economic niching, unionization, urban proletarianization and migrants’ entrepreneurship.
In addressing these issues the book focuses on the role played by a specific economic sector in enabling immigrants to find their place in their new host society. More specifically, this study looks at the residential sector of the construction industry that, between the 1950s and the 1970s, represented a typical economic ethnic niche for newly arrived Italians. In fact, tens of thousands of Italian men found work in this sector as labourers, bricklayers, carpenters, plasterers and cement finishers, while hundreds of others became contractors, subcontractors or small employers in the same industry. This book is about these real people. It gives voice to a community formed both by entrepreneurial subcontractors who created companies out of nothing and a large group of exploited workers who fought successfully for their rights. In this book you will find stories of inventiveness and hope as well as of oppression and despair. The purpose is to offer an original approach to issues arising from the economic and social history of twentieth-century mass migrations.
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Chapter 7: The ‘Italian way’. Unionization and class conflicts in the 1960s and the 1970s


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The ‘Italian Way’. Unionization and class conflicts in the 1960s and the 1970s

7.1 The end of the Brandon Union Group and the ‘normalization’ of Italian unionism (1962–1963)

The 1960 and 1961 strikes changed the Torontonian residential construction sector forever. Although remnants of the former lawless jungle of the 1950s were still there, it was no longer the non-unionized industry of the past. The efforts to organize residential workers had succeeded in overcoming the traditional isolation of the immigrant workforce in this sector. Italian immigrants had now unequivocally joined the class conflict of the Toronto labour market. This process, resisted by the established locals of the international unions, was mostly driven by the far more unorthodox and radical Brandon Union Group (BUG).

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