Labor's Gotta Play Hardball to Win!

Showdown on West Coast Docks: The Battle of Longview
(November 2011).
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Chicago Plant Occupation Electrifies Labor
(December 2008).
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May Day Strike Against the War Shuts Down
U.S. West Coast Ports

(May 2008)
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January 2021

“Essential, Yes! Expendable, No!” A Fight for All Workers

NYC Labor: All Out to Support
Hunts Point Market Strikers!

At Hunts Point Market on Sunday, as the strike began. (Internationalist photo)

On Sunday, January 17, the 1,400 union workers at the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx walked out. It is the first strike since 1986 at the wholesale meat, fish and produce market, one of the largest in the world. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 202 is demanding a raise of $1 an hour in recognition of their vital role as essential workers, and another 60 cents an hour increase for the health benefits fund, simply to maintain current levels. The employers “offered” an insulting 32 cents an hour. This is a slap in the face to the workers who have risked their lives in the coronavirus pandemic to keep New York City supplied with fresh food in dangerous times.

Supporters of the Internationalist Group and the Internationalist Clubs at the City University of New York attended a press conference on the picket lines Sunday morning with signs saying, “Essential, Yes! Expendable, No! Victory to the Hunts Point Workers!” “CUNY Students Support Hunts Point Strike” and calling on New York labor to support the strikers. There were several Teamster locals present, including 282 (construction), 553 (oil), 813 (private sanitation), and a member of Actor’s Equity. They should be joined by hundreds from other NYC unions.

Workers at the wholesale market make an average of $18 to $21 an hour base pay, not nearly enough to live on in New York City. The companies plead poverty, yet they received over $15 million in forgivable loans from the federal government. $1 an hour is only a start. All front-line workers need fighting unions and a whopping raise. An outpouring of support from workers could build massive picket lines that no one dares cross, and make the Hunts Point strike the kickoff for a drive to unionize hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers (like at Amazon!) across the city.

At the press conference, workers pointed to the ravages of COVID-19 at the giant market, where social-distancing rules and mask requirements have not been enforced for customers. Six members of the local have died, and union officials estimate that 300-400 workers at the facility have fallen ill from the disease. “Men have died. They tried to work. They went home. They dropped dead in their wives’ arms. It’s criminal,” said Local 202 vice president Leo Servedio. As for the 32 cents, he added, “Mándalo al carajo” – screw that.

The bosses’ lip service to essential workers is hypocrisy: they call them heroes, but don’t give a damn about their lives. Across the U.S., food processing and distribution facilities have been some of the hardest-hit workplaces, with more than 16,000 cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in July, and many more since. In Mexico City, the Centro de Abastos wholesale market has been one of the main sources of infection. But the strike by fruit-packing workers, mainly women, in Yakima, Washington, in May-June and now the Hunts Point strike here in NYC show that workers can fight back. In February 2018, hundreds of Hunts Point workers, overwhelmingly Latino and African American, shut down the market on the “Day Without Immigrants.”

This Monday morning, police were herding scab trucks into and out of the terminal. This underscores the role of police as enforcers for the bosses, even as they have viciously attacked Black Lives Matter demonstrators for months, backed by Democratic Party city rulers. Scabs must go! Workers must rely on their own class power to win this crucial battle. For starters, as Internationalist signs emphasized, “Picket Lines Mean Don’t Cross, Period.” NYC labor must make that real, and together we can win this strike!  ■