Teachers, transit and other workers in New York City denounced Tuesday’s police attack on striking warehouse workers at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx and called for unified action to defend the striking workers and to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in schools and workplaces.
Over 1,400 warehouse and truck drivers walked out on Sunday, January 17, to demand a dollar an hour increase over three years for workers who have suffered more than 400 infections and at least six deaths from the virus. The workers perform backbreaking labor at the world’s largest wholesale food market, where workers handle more than 200 million pounds of food for distribution to grocery stores and restaurants across the region. The market generates $2.3 billion in revenue each year, accounting for approximately 60 percent of produce sales in New York City.
The operators of the produce market, many which received government bailout money, have steadfastly refused to accede to Teamsters Local 202’s meager wage demands. Instead, they have hired private security goons who have been supplemented by the New York Police Department. Early Tuesday morning, hundreds of cops in riot gear, dispatched by the city’s supposedly “progressive” Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, violently attacked striking workers, arresting five and escorting scabs through the picket lines.
The battle is at a critical turning point. While there is broad sympathy for the strikers, the Teamsters and other city unions, including the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the Transport Workers Union, have isolated the struggle. Opposed to broader mobilization of the working class across the city that would lead to a direct conflict with the union-backed Democrats, the unions have brought a parade of Democrats to the picket line, including millionaire mayoral candidate Andrew Yang and US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But their empty gestures of support cannot cover up the fact that it is their party that sent the police to beat up and arrest strikers.
The Democrats, like the Republicans, have handed over trillions to Wall Street while workers have borne the brunt of the deadly pandemic and the economic and social crisis. Over the last three years alone, the city has subsidized the produce market operators with over $150 million in infrastructure development funds. Meanwhile, the official poverty rate in the Hunts Point/Longwood section of the Bronx was 40 percent, three times the city’s rate, and 54 percent for children, even before the pandemic led to the loss of one million jobs in the city. At the same time, the bipartisan bailout of New York Stock Exchange has raised the collective wealth of the city’s billionaires by $81 billion to $600 billion during the pandemic.