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The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi
by Les Leopold. Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, VT. ISBN 978-1-933392-63-9

By William Angelo

The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: the Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi by Les Leopold is an extensive chronicle of a major progressive labor activist. It could rightly be labeled: My Fight Against Toxic Workplaces.

The book examines the exuberant life and interesting times of Tony Mazzocchi, son of Italian immigrants, ninth grade dropout, World War II vet and labor organizer who got his start fighting a two-tier wage system at a Helena Rubinstein cosmetics plant in New York. Mazzocchi won and then pushed other groundbreaking labor ideas such as dental care plans and union book reading clubs that used great literature to educate workers on social and political issues.

Mazzocchi also was a labor pioneer on racial integration and anti-nuclear proliferation. But his major claim to fame is linking the workplace — the shop floor — to environmental health issues. Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring helped provide the link by dramatizing the impact of chemicals on the environment. Mazzocchi took it a step further. He saw unions not only as stewards of workers rights but as potential environmental organizations fighting toxic exposure at work and in plant neighborhoods and he knew that "Business as usual was hazardous to their (workers) health" as Leopold notes. As an outspoken leader of the now defunct Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers International Union, Mazzocchi fought against lax or no workplace safety regulation and started bringing in scientists and doctors to help workers combat owner disinformation and workplace hazards. He knew that "pollution always starts in the workplace" and then spreads throughout the environment. And we all pay as callous corporations profit.

In his ceaseless and creative fight for worker rights and protections, Mazzocchi was instrumental in the creation of OSHA. He also filed the first formal complaint with that agency that lead to the first citation issued, over mercury poisoning at an Allied Chemical plant in W. Virginia.

While Mazzocchi's life is happily studded with exposure to celebrities including Ralph Nader, Karen Silkwood (who mysteriously died while bringing information about defective welds on nuclear fuel rods to a Mazzocchi friend) and Bruce Springsteen, among others, so is the sadness apparent from two divorces and national election losses. Ever the progressive, Mazzocchi turned a jaundiced eye on construction unions stating "they'd pave over the Atlantic Ocean if given the chance."

 

 



 
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