Tony Mazzocchi

Tony Mazzocchi was born in 1926 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in a working-class neighborhood where he learned politics from his father, uncles and aunts, who were all union men and women. He dedicated himself to the cause of working people at an early age.

Mazzocchi dropped out of school in the ninth grade and enlisted in the infantry at age 16. He fought in three major campaigns in Europe during WWII. When he returned to New York after the war, he soon became deeply involved in the labor movement. Mazzocchi worked as an auto worker, steelworker and in the construction trades. Eventually, he went to work for a Long Island cosmetics factory where he became president of his Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW), now United Steelworkers (USW), local union composed mostly of women. He served in that office from 1953 until 1965, and in that time transformed his local into one of the most militant and progressive local unions in the history of the labor movement.

Some of the local's achievements included the first dental plan in the country, early support for the civil rights movement, massive organizing efforts all over the New York area and the rebuilding of the entire Democratic party of Long Island. Tony Mazzocchi also amalgamated his local and negotiated with over 25 diversified corporations.

Mazzocchi was appointed OCAW citizenship-legislative director in 1965 and moved to Washington, D. C. In this capacity, he discovered that workers across the country were facing clouds of toxic substances on the shop floor. He developed a national mobilization and educational campaign that led to the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. He also was the first union activist to unite with environmentalists who helped to pass the Clean Air Act and other environmental bills. In addition to these legislative successes, Mazzocchi invented the concepts of "Right to Know" and "Right to Act" for the toxic substances faced at work and was the first unionist to conduct education on global warming.

While Mazzocchi led the nation on health and safety, he also wanted working people to have a greater say in how the economy was run. Mazzocchi worried that economic pressures would undercut health and safety and might send the United States into a great depression again. In the mid-1970s he helped found the Labor Institute to provide economic education for workers.

Mazzocchi was also ahead of his time on other political issues as well. For example, he believed that health care was a human right and fought hard for a single-payer system. He worried that the two political parties had been captured by corporations and Wall Street, so he set up a new Labor Party in 1996 to represent the interests of working Americans.

When Tony Mazzocchi died of pancreatic cancer in 2002, he was still organizing for the Labor Party and for the health and safety of all workers. He was raising hell all the way.