Joe Zuken"s family immigrated to Canada from the Ukraine when he was still an infant. He joined the Communist Party of Canada as a young lawyer and intervened in struggles for workers rights and in anti-fascist movements during the Great Depression. Prior to the Second World War Zuken was connected with theatre in the city, both on-stage as an actor and off-stage, including an attempt to put on Eight Men Speak in a Winnipeg theatre.
He fought for the establishment of kindergartens, free textbooks, and higher salaries for teachers.
After serving on the school board for twenty years he was elected, in 1961, to Winnipeg"s city council on behalf of the North End ward which had been represented since the 1930s by fellow Communist Jacob Penner. As an alderman he fought for public housing, public hospitals and rights for the poor.
He remained an alderman until his retirement in 1983 due to poor health. Zuken"s older brother, William Ross (Cecil Zuken), was also an active Communist politician, and served as leader of the Communist Party in Manitoba from 1948 to 1981.