Tony Mazzocchi: a man who hated work and loved labor

by Mark Catlin

Tony Mazzocchi was a visionary who was in the forefront of the labor movement’s major struggles for social justice in the postwar period.   Those hard fought struggles and victories, from the civil rights movement and the struggles against nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War, to the struggle for environmental justice and the movement for occupational health and safety, which he spearheaded.

Last evening, in a very moving ceremony, the US Department of Labor inducted Tony Mazzocchi, dynamic labor leader,  into its Labor Hall of Honor. The ceremony took place at the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) 33rd Anniversary Awards Celebration in New York City on  June 5th 2012.  Mazzocchi was born in 1926 and died in 2002. A short video, The Life and Words of Tony Mazzocchi was prepared for the event.  Several of his children accepted the award for their late father.

Tony’s lifelong conviction was that the objective of our struggle is to set the terms of national political debate around an agenda that expresses the concerns of America’s workers. This conviction culminated in his decision in 1991 to concentrate all his energies on propagating the message of independent working class politics to workers throughout the country. Drawing on his broad and vast experiences in the labor movement, he was the catalyst for the creation of the Labor Party in 1996. His leadership combined both acute, far-reaching vision and a deep understanding of the practicalities of building a coherent, independent working class political movement.

Tony’s life was defined by an irrepressible optimism that stemmed from his unflagging confidence in the capacities of workers to create change and his unique ability to combine a tough-minded understanding of the political realities of the moment with a longer view of our movement’s goals and requirements.

The Labor Department’s Hall of Fame honors those Americans whose distinctive contributions in the field of labor have elevated working conditions, wages, and over-all quality of life of America’s workers and their families and communities.

Tony Mazzocchi was the force behind the modern workers safety and health movement in the US. Every worker in this country is safer because Tony led the fight for all of us for the right to leave work at the end of the day as healthy as when we came in.

“The Labor Department is pleased to recognize Tony Mazzocchi for his tireless commitment to the safety, health and welfare of America’s workers,” said Dr. Michaels at the event.  Michaels is the assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “Tony’s extraordinary efforts and leadership helped pave the way for vital reforms like the OSH Act, and it’s time he takes his rightful place in the Labor Hall of Honor.”

His life is recounted in the 2007 biography, The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi, by author and labor expert Les Leopold. This book won an Independent Book Publisher gold medal for best 2008 biography.