When 1,400 workers at Hunts Point Produce Market, a 113-acre distribution center in the Bronx, decided to go on strike earlier this month, their demands were simple: a $ 1 hourly increase and better health benefits. Their employer had offered them a 32 cents an hour increase, which the workers considered an insult. After all, they would worked non-stop through a pandemic that had killed six of them.
“Our bosses don’t feel like essential people – we are only important when they say we are important people,” said William Brown, who has been in the market for 21 years. “We show them that they need us.”
In fact, all of New York City needs these market workers, whose average basic wages were between $ 18 and $ 21 an hour. Their work feeds New Yorkers as they distribute around 60 percent of the city’s fruits and vegetables.
Your decision to go on strike was a risk. “Every advantage in this contract was at stake if we lost – if we couldn’t hold that line, if we couldn’t keep people busy,” said Daniel Kane, President of the Teamsters Local 202 Labor Union, during a speech at the picket line . “We didn’t know whether we would prevail.”
But they prevailed. Their six-day strike not only earned them concessions from their employer, but also became a focal point for work and economic justice. The Local 202 picket line attracted hundreds of supporters almost every day, raised thousands of dollars in donations, and became a minor sensation on social media. Their humble demands resonated with sympathizers across the country who were fed up with the mounting injustices of the Covid-19 era, and their success has fueled the militancy of the moment.
“It was about getting counted, getting up, being on the street,” said Kane. “This is the only way you can make real systemic changes. And that’s exactly what happened here.”
W.Hitney Witthaus, a public school teacher and Labor member of the New York Democratic Socialists of America, heard of the strike at the Hunts Point Produce Market on Monday, January 18, the day after it began. “So some of us went there to ask the workers how we could help,” she said. “They told us they needed supporters to show the boss that the strikers could stay outside.” So they got to work right away, sending texts to thousands of DSA members in the area, calling for support on social media and asking socialist elected officials to show their solidarity.
Later, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, when Local 202 strikers tried to block trucks in the market, police pounced on them and arrested six people. Videos evoked by the swarming police officers, some in riot gear and with batons constantly brutality Activists have had experiences with the NYPD since the Black Lives Matter resurgence in May. The images of the arrests, coupled with calls to action by the DSA, quickly spread the word of the producers’ cause. Supporters came from all over the region. Donations flowed in and then multiplied when the politicians liked it Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders Declarations of solidarity submitted.
The pouring of support reflected a kind of politicization of direct aid that blossomed in the Covid-19 era. In New York City, as across the country, communities pooled their money to make money Mutual aid networks who provided the neighbors with the supplies they needed. According to Witthaus, the DSA spent around $ 10,000 on donations alone, and according to Local 202, material support came from California Evacuation Defense Networks, consisting of neighbors who, among other things, physically prevent landlords from evicting during the pandemic; At Hunts Point, the same community groups, along with activists, students and union colleagues, showed up almost around the clock to help workers maintain a physical presence on the picket line, even as police officers, including units on horseback, kept watch from a distance.
In the meantime, the 202 members have kept up the pressure: on Wednesday they are said to have convinced a train 21 cars filled with goods destined for the market to turn around. The engineer was a teamster.
Soon the picket line was the a place to be. City council members, lawmakers and mayoral candidates showed up to offer assistance. Ocasio-Cortez paid a visit while the Washington, DC, opening ceremonies were still on, and returned two days later with actress Padma Lakshmi, who had helped spread information about the strike to her 770,000+ Twitter followers.
On Friday evening the picket line had grown into a community of demonstrators. Over a handful of campfires, the members of Local 202 in their yellow union jackets mingled with the 100 or so supporters who braved the almost freezing weather. Music boomed and working class children played among the masked crowd. Around 8:30 a.m. ClockKane, the president of 202, grabbed a microphone and said the union and management had reached a preliminary agreement. The announcement was received with loud cheers. The next morning, the union would vote to ratify a 70 cents an hour hike, increasing to $ 1.85 over three years, plus an additional 40 cents an hour contributions to employee health care – a significant win .
Eddie Gill, a 43-year-old product market veteran who was part of the last Local 202 strike in 1986, was pleased but not surprised at the union’s victory. “Without us, there is no she inside, ”he said, pointing to the market. “So I knew it wouldn’t take long.” External support, however “The I was surprised, ”he said. “Seeing these kids who came from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan to come here to be with us was the best.”
Tommy Hayes, who has been in the market for four years, told me, “Half of these people out here are just sympathizers, people who show solidarity.” He pointed to a group of tables at the far end of the picket line, full of snacks, hot meals, coffee, water, and hand warmers. “There are about 40, 50 pizzas over there, and they’re all donations from people who have come to support us.” At that moment a van pulled up with a stack of about a dozen cakes.
“If you stand up for something that you firmly believe in and that is on the right, people will come and fight with you,” said Hayes.
With the union’s victory, both supporters and workers at Hunts Point Produce Market are eager to keep fighting.
“We keep appearing,” said Witthaus from DSA. She pointed to other important workers who are Organization for justice in their workplaces across the country, especially with their fellow teachers who set the pace for a new wave of worker militancy in 2018-19 and now calling for coronavirus security measures and fair pay Chicago;; Pittsburgh;; and Bellevue, Wash. “We had to prove to Local 202 that we know how to show solidarity with them, and I hope that other workers across town will know they can count on our support.”
“It couldn’t happen without you all, without all of you being engaged and looking after each other,” Kane told the picket crowd after announcing the contractual agreement. “I hope that this spark will be ignited in our country.”
Kane ended his speech with a promise of solidarity: “We will be on your picket line too.”