Petta, George

George Petta 01Date of birth: April 30, 1934
Place of birth: Carpinone, Molise region, Italy
Arrival in Canada: 1954
Affiliations: International Hod Carriers and Common Laborers’ Union Local 811; Brandon Union Group; Labourers’ International Union of North America’s Local 183

George Petta was born in the rural hilltop town of Carpinone, in the southern Italian region of Molise. There he worked as barber until he immigrated to Canada in 1954, at 20-years-old. Once in Toronto, he worked as a journalist for the Corriere Canadese, the most circulated Italian-language newspaper in Canada. In 1960, Charles Irvine and Bruno Zanini hired him as an organizer with the International Hod Carriers and Common Laborers’ Union Local 811 – a small union of bricklayer helpers who had been organized by Zanini in 1957 and splintered from the Bricklayers’, Masons’ and Plasterers’ International Local 2 in 1959. Local 811, which was led by Zanini, was one of the five new residential construction union locals that formed the rogue Brandon Union Group on March 17, 1960; the other locals being the Bricklayers’ Local 40  (led by Zanini, Marino Toppan, Mike Hammang, Dino Di Danieli, and Mario Della Mora), the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ International Union Locals Local 117 and Local 117-C (led by Irvine , Tony Mariano, and Angelo Burigana), and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America’s Local 1190 (led by Frank Colantonio). In all of them, Italian immigrants made up the overwhelming majority of the membership. During the Brandon Union Group strikes of 1960 and 1961, Petta shined on stage as the Italian translator to Irvine and Zanini, where he was able to match the passionate style of those charismatic leaders – for more on the Brandon Union Group and its 1960 and 1961 strikes see Bruno Zanini and Charles Irvine’s bios, and episode 2 of our documentary series.

After the end of the Brandon Union Group’s strike of 1961, the Bricklayers Local 40 and the Laborers’ Local 811, who had collective agreements with their respective contractors, grew tired of being regularly asked to walk out of jobs in solidarity with their allied locals. And so did their employers’ association, which gave them an ultimatum in the summer of 1962 when renewing their agreement: either abandon the Brandon Union Group or forfeit their negotiations. By then, Zanini was working for the Laborers’ International union as a consultant and conciliator for Ontario and Manitoba. According to him, the Laborers’ executives in Washington wanted him to break away from that residential union collective and cancelled Local 811’s charter, instructing Zanini to re-sign those men under a different local. On October 15, 1962, the two locals, representing about 2,000 workers, split from the Brandon Union Group. The residential union collective would disintegrate soon afterwards.

After Local 811 ended, Petta became an organizer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 353. Later on he became an industrial relations officer with the heavy contractor Kilmer Van Nostrand Co. Ltd. (KVN) and the concrete forming contractor Lafarge Corp. In the 1970s, Petta became chairman of the board of the Heavy Construction Association of Toronto.

George Petta died on October 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida. He was 82 years old. He was survived by his wife and their four children. [1]


[1] Obituary, Toronto Star, October 19, 2016: