Bronx Construction Site Highlights Daily Death Toll of Capitalism

Members of New Immigrant Community Empowerment, an advocacy group, honoring construction workers killed on the job. Image credit: Desiree Rios / The New York Times

A single construction site in the Bronx, New York, serves as a reminder of the deadly toll that the capitalist system of production takes on human beings. 

The construction site is a five-story factory/warehouse, more than one hundred years old, that has been in the process of being renovated for use by a charter school. The two owners of the building, one a real estate developer and advertising mogul, the other a construction company owner and charter school advocate, are connected by ties of wealth and influence. Both have connections with U.S. Senators like Cory Booker of New Jersey, another charter school proponent whose campaigns they contribute to generously. One has previously been convicted of Medicaid fraud. Both are wealthy, one currently living in a $22 million duplex in the rich and trendy Tribeca area of Manhattan.

Their workers, however, have no such luxuries or connections. They are non-union workers, a few of the hundreds of thousands who do the grunt labor on smaller construction sites throughout the city. Many are undocumented, most are not skilled construction workers, and some are even experiencing homelessness and looking for day work.

Over a three-year period, from 2018 to 2021, three such men were killed in the building, another gravely injured. The first was a teenager from Ecuador, crushed against a ceiling by a mechanical lift. In 2019, a homeless man who had taken work on the site fell to his death through a hole. And in spring of 2021, two men, both immigrants, had their bodies broken when an elevator fell to the ground below. One died instantly, his face mangled and chest torn open, the other sustained life altering injuries. The men who died in this building had been paid just $120 per day. 

All of these are labeled “accidents” by the owners, the city government, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and even the few news reports that cover such tragedies. But these are obviously not accidents at all. These are deaths and injuries caused by the callous disregard for safety, maintenance, and human life that are all but guaranteed to happen when capitalists put profit ahead of human need.

Less than three weeks after that latest tragedy, seemingly unconcerned with the conditions of their workers – one of whom hadn’t yet been buried, the other still in the hospital – both owners and their friends celebrated a birthday at a posh resort in the Dominican Republic.

What happened at this one construction site in the Bronx may seem to be an extreme example, but deaths on the job are a normal part of life for the working class. Nationwide, there were 4,764 deaths on the job in 2020. That suggests that, out of every 100,000 workers, 3.5 will be killed this year at their place of work. In other words, every single day in the United States, 13 workers die on the job! The number and statistics increase many times when we factor in deaths from illnesses caused by their work. Internationally, the numbers are bigger and the statistics even worse. 

These three workers on one job site in the Bronx, these thousands throughout the U.S., and these millions around the world, are the daily death toll of capitalism, a system shaped and driven forward by a few for their profit, while millions do the work that keep them wealthy and powerful.

When will we put an end to this insanity?