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More than We Bargained For

An Untold Story of Exploitation, Redemption, and the Men Who Built a Worker’s Empire

John Stefanini

268 pages
Sutherland House Inc

In 1959, 18-year-old John Stefanini left war-shattered Italy for a better life in the new world. With no money and no English, he landed in Toronto's burgeoning Italian community and found work in the construction industry. Radicalized by the horrific deaths of five Italian workers in the flooded water-main tunnel disaster that was Hogg's Hollow, he became active in union politics and a year after his arrival was jailed for his (non-violent) part in a violent strike. On his release, he began his dramatic rise to become one of the most formidable forces on the Canadian union scene.

This is a Horatio Alger story from the other side of the negotiating table. With hard work, shrewdness, and strategic vision, Stefanini built the lowly Laborers Local 183 into a union powerhouse, the dominant organization of its kind in North America, expanding its membership from a few hundred to tens of thousands, and gaining for his workers wage levels, job security, health benefits, retirement funds, life insurance, and other benefits that had once seemed impossible.

With good sense and wry humor, Stefanini lays bare the life of a full-time labor organizer, the surprisingly collegial relations with some of the world's toughest contractors, and the often bitter and violent conflicts among ethnic groups and rival unions determined to rise at each other's expense. We meet meddling mobsters and tone-deaf prime ministers. We witness treachery, arson, beatings, shootings, sabotage, police anti-corruption investigations, and all-night, nail-biting, career-defining negotiations. Above all, we gain for the first time an inside look at a brotherhood of workers who deserve as much credit for the building of modern Canada as the celebrated tycoons for whom they toiled.

Author Bio
John Stefanini was only a teenager when he emigrated from Italy to Canada, but he quickly became an important figure in Toronto labor politics. At the age of 19, he was inspired by the deadly Hogg's Hollow disaster to mobilize workers and demand fair rights. He was at the forefront of the strikes that led to mass unionization and improved working conditions, earning several months in jail. Stefanini became business manager of the Laborers International Union in North America and founded the union's Local 183 in Toronto. He has spent his life fighting for worker's rights, tirelessly advocating for fair pay and fair treatment.