Mark Dudzic was the president of Tony Mazzocchi’s local in 1984 and worked closely with Tony throughout the 80s. He is currently the coordinator for the Labor Campaign for Single Payer healthcare reform.
Where’d you first meet Tony?
I joined Tony’s home local in 1979 when I kind of helped organize a plant that I worked at in New Jersey. At the time it was Local 8149, Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers for 149 of the Steelworkers, so I’d heard about Tony before I actually met him. When I joined the union in 1979, he was actually running for national president of Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers, and people that I really respected in the local were just really enthusiastic about that, so I was really intrigued about Tony.
I think the first time I met him was in 1980. He came to a local union meeting and swore in the newly elected shop stewards and local officers. He gave a little talk to people at that meeting. He had just lost his race for national union president, and it was a really close race, he lost by like 2% of the vote. There was all this stuff going in the labor movement, I think Reagan had just been elected and stuff like that, but Tony actually talked about the history of the local and this crazy strike that took place to organize the local in 1941 at the Helena Rubenstein plant right after Pearl Harbor. The company and the cops were really vicious, they brought scabs in, women on the picket line used to follow the scabs into the subway and strip their clothes off in the subways to humiliate them. And he told this whole story about that, and it was really significant, because Tony sort of understood before you do anything you have to create a culture of solidarity, and a sense of continuity and tradition, and everything else. He wanted to establish that with these newly elected shop stewards in the local.
What was it like working closely with Tony?
Well, he was in Denver after he lost his run for the Presidency in ’79. He was the director of Health and Safety, and in ’81 he ran again. I actually worked on his campaign, just kind of low-level stuff like bartending at his fundraisers, things like that. He lost that also by 2% of the vote, and it was just really heartbreaking, especially because what Tony was running on in ’81 was basically saying, “Look, the 1980s are going to hit us like a ton of bricks and we have to be ready for it,” and the guy who ran against him was like, “Ehhh you know Tony you’re full of it, the 1980s are going to be just like the 1970s and the 1960s, we’ll have our fights, but there’s nothing new coming at us.” And then, in fact, we were devastated in the 80s by industrialization and vicious anti-labor government and everything else. So I worked a little on his campaign in ’81 and then Tony ended up getting fired by the union after he lost the election, and he moved back to New Jersey, and actually went to work for Les Leopold’s organization, the Labor Institute in New York. During that period from ’82 through ’88 when he got elected secretary treasurer, he hung out a lot at the union hall, and kind of used it as his base of operations, so I saw him a lot in the 1980s. And by then, I got elected president of the local in ’84 and I was a fulltime officer of the local.
How was your friendship with Tony?
I mean Tony was just this amazing person. He was incredibly… warm isn’t quite the word, but he’d create a sense of purpose, and a sense of fun. He could make you feel like you were helping to change the world by driving him to the airport. He just had this ability to put whatever you were doing into a broader context of history and moving forward and things like that.
Ideas would just come off of his head. I mean one day we were moving some furniture around in the office and it was a really hot summer day and he started saying, “You know this global warming stuff, maybe there’s really something to this. We really got to be on top of this stuff and not just let this wave wash over us.” And the next day I see him like calling up people at Harvard University and asking them what they think about global warming and all of a sudden he has this new broad project in mind, based on the fact that he was pretty hot when he was helping to move some furniture. So that was the kind of person that he was to be around. He was always having these incredible brainstorms. I used to room with him sometimes when we went to meetings and conventions and I would see he’d open up a newspaper in the morning and look at an article and make a comment about it and then he’d go down to a convention and give a one-hour speech about this little article he’d just read in the newspaper and what it meant for the workers.
One of the things that he really always understood was that workers had to have ownership over these projects and ideas. And it was very important that people understand and participate in the conception of what we were doing. Because in Tony’s mind a lot of this stuff, in the end, was really to build power for working people in a corporate world.