Nearly 1,400 workers at the Hunt’s Point Produce Market in the Bronx, New York City were fed up with low pay and complete lack of safety precautions during the pandemic. As essential workers who also need their daily pay to make ends meet, they worked straight through the pandemic to keep fresh food in markets. But they did so at tremendous cost: more than 300 of them contracted COVID, six of whom died of the virus!
Hunt’s Point is the largest wholesale produce market in the U.S. The strikers were joined on their picket lines by hundreds of New Yorkers who supported their cause, and after a weeklong strike won a raise of $1.85 per hour over a three-year period. It wasn’t what the workers needed or wanted, but it was double what the bosses were offering. This win showed what workers are capable of – when willing to organize and withhold their labor! It showed the potential for workers when they organize and engage other workers to support them. Essential workers in particular have tremendous power because of their absolute necessity in making society run.
The strike also highlighted the role of police and union leaders in keeping working people from using their power. While picketing, workers were sometimes outnumbered by police. At one point, when they blocked trucks from entering the market (exactly the kind of thing workers need to do to win a strike), police surrounded them, outnumbering the workers two-to-one, arresting six! The police demonstrated exactly what their role is in a capitalist society: to protect private property and crack down on workers! But instead of being clear with workers about the role of the police, leaders of the local union said, “Our battle’s not with the NYPD…We think it was a bit of an overreaction.” But the police action made clear that the workers battle is with the police, because cops are paid to arrest workers who stand between business owners and their so-called “right” to make a profit, even at the expense of workers’ lives.
This strike demonstrated two big things. First, workers can come together, organize, take action, and succeed! Second, the cops are not on our side.
When working people build our power, and when we know who our enemies are, the possibilities are limitless. We can’t rely on others. We can only rely on ourselves.