It's always hard to know what book to recommend to liberal friends looking to understand the labor movement, since you want a book that has frames of reference that non-labor folks can identify with, yet gets to the meat of what unions are about. So my new first choice may be The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi, a book that will introduce them to a labor leader they may not understand existed, one who fought for civil rights in the workplace before anyone had heard of Martin Luther King Jr., who as a leader of unions in defense industries actually led labor opposition to nuclear testing and the Vietnam War, who built a labor-environmental alliance with Ralph Nader and others around pollution in the workplace, and whose history within his union, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW) can give a wonderful sense of the internal life of the best of labor institutions.
His story, from the 1940s when Mazzocchi left the army as a veteran and high-school drop-out to this decade when he finally passed on from terminal disease, still fighting on behalf of workers suffering from post-911 cleanup illnesses, is not necessarily typical, but he was hardly an aberration either, as evidenced by the broader labor and progressive coalitions he built in his lifetime. And what is true is that the history in which he was embedded is often forgotten by even most liberals, whose views of labor are constricted to myths and stereotypes rather than understanding the rich mosaic of union life that Mazzocchi was a vital part. Jump to below the fold for a selection of stories on Mazzocchi, but I urge you to read the book.
Civil Rights: Mazzocchi, although not ever a Communist Party member, entered the labor movement embedded in the movements of leftwing activism of the 1940s. And long before the Brando's fictional Terry Malloy faced down mobsters in the East Coast Longshoremen union, Mazzocchi in 1948 was working with Communist activists demanding democratic reforms in the union and the opening up of longshoremen jobs to black workers.
As part of a classic early confrontation with racists and red-baiters, Tony was a guard at a concert in 1949 for the black singerPaul Robeson, whose performance in Peekskill New York was beset by a white mobcalling to "string that big nigger up."
When he led his own union local in conservative Long Island, in the early 1950s he and his union forced his employer to hire black workers -- all long before the civil rights movement in the South was getting headlines. His union newspaper would cover the rising civil rights movement and in 1956, the local would financially support the Montgomery bus boycott and led its members to a civil rights rally in Madison Square Garden in support of the bus boycotters.
On womens rights, Mazzocchi started life in a local with majority female membership and would combine the health and safety organizing that became his signature (as detailed below) with demands that employers stop trying to exclude women of child-bearing age from jobs -- instead demanding that they make jobs safe for all workers. In 1982, Ms. Magazine would rank Mazzocchi withPhil Donahue, Norman Lear and other "Ms. Heros--Men Who've Taken Chances andMade a Difference."
Anti-War Leader: What is remarkable is that as a leader in a union representing defense workers, in 1956 Mazzocchi organized a local symposium on Long Island on thedangers of nuclear fallout from nuclear testing. In 1957, he could become a leader of theCommittee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE). He would continue to promote the issue as herose in power within the national union, sometimes to the detriment of his ownstanding but always seeking to expand the education of members on the issues ofwar and peace.
Even with a conservative membership, Mazzocchiencouraged teachins on the Vietnam War within the union. In 1967, Mazzocchi would testify beforeCongress on the occupational-sickness related illnesses of Navajo uraniumminers, condemning the government for its incestuous ties with industry. AsVietnam kept going, Mazzocchi became a key organizer of labor leaders acrossthe nation to come forward and speak out against the war, in defiance of theofficial pro-war line from AFL-CIO headquarters. He would author a famous ad for theWashington Post in 1970, signed by 110 union leaders from twenty-two unions,labeling Vietnam "A Rich Man's War and Poor Man's Fight."
Environmental Leader: It was as an environmental leader coming from the labor movement that Mazzocchi would most leave his mark. Having educated himself about the healthdangers of nuclear fallout, he took seriously the warnings of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, seeing that workers wereon the frontline of environmental dangers. He would actually argue that the environmental writers wereunderestimating the dangers, since they worried about exposure levels for thepublic, while workers were facing far higher exposure levels since they workedat the source of the chemical pollution. Environmental dangers were a workers issue--as Mazzocchi argued, "therewas a systematic conflict between profits and health."
In 1967, he brought Nader to speak to theOCAW national convention. He and Nader hadbegun working together in having workers in polluting industries highlight thedangers to themselves and consumers from reckless corporate behavior. The resolution approved by the national uniondelegates would give Mazzocchi licesense to develop a national "health andsafety program" that would work with "community