It’s time we all learn a lesson from the Hunts Point strike.
Workers at the Bronx’s own Hunts Point Produce Market have kept the city fed through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. After 10 workers at the market died from complications of COVID-19, management added insult to injury by offering a mere 32-cent raise when it came time to negotiate a new contract.
The workers, knowing their lives were worth more than that, went on strike. They didn’t break under freezing cold weather, or under the New York Police Department’s batons. And, at the end of January, Teamsters Local 202 won a substantial raise and additional health care benefits.
Like the Hunts Point workers, the rest of the Bronx — home to a higher proportion of “essential workers” than any other borough — has kept New York moving throughout the pandemic. And that labor has come at a cost measured in lives.
The Bronx has lost more residents to COVID-19 than any other county in New York state, and the Medicaid funding that Gov. Cuomo cut at the height of the pandemic last year only made things worse for our community.
For too long, the Bronx has suffered the brunt of systemic racism, police brutality and environmental injustice — all of which left us more vulnerable to the pandemic than residents of any other borough. Bronxites who have survived the pandemic have suffered the worst unemployment rates in the city, and are struggling to feed their families. And, as we know, this crisis has had disproportionate impact on working class Black and brown women, as well as our immigrant communities.
But instead of providing New Yorkers the assistance they need and deserve to help build back from the pandemic, Gov. Cuomo claims that we have no choice but to rob funding from our schools, our subway system, our hospitals and Medicaid to cover the state’s budget deficit.
Fortunately, there is another way. We have more than enough money to save our schools, our transit, and the other bedrock services that we all rely on. But all of this wealth is being hoarded by the rich.
New York’s 118 billionaires saw their wealth increase by $77.3 billion over the first three months of the pandemic. That alone is more than the entire state of New York is projected to lose in revenue over the next four years.
But as long as Cuomo refuses to generate revenue by raising taxes on the rich, devastating cuts — including the closure of 19 community health centers — will continue.
When Cuomo tells us that raising taxes on the rich will backfire — because the rich will move to other states — he’s not telling the truth. But we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Cuomo — whose dishonesty becomes clearer every day — has relied on his billionaire backers to bankroll his campaigns for years. And, in his own words, he talks to people in their Hamptons mansions “literally all day long.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. Cuomo is dead wrong: We can — and must — raise taxes on New York’s richest residents, and say “no” to ruthless budget cuts.
State lawmakers have proposed the Invest in Our New York Act to raise the funds that working class communities need and deserve, and we need to pass it now. The act would raise income taxes for New Yorkers making at least $300,000 annually, update tax codes on profits from investments, tax large inheritances and Wall Street transactions, and reverse Trump’s devastating corporate tax breaks.
It makes long-overdue changes to our tax structure to ensure that the ultra-rich pay at least as much money in taxes as middle- and working-class New Yorkers. There’s more than enough money in New York state to meet the needs of every single New Yorker throughout the ongoing crisis. By taxing the rich, we can bring the wealth that our work has created back to our communities.
Specifically, raising taxes on the rich will allow the state to cancel rent for millions of tenants, and build thousands of new units of socially controlled housing, to keep our hospitals and schools operating at full capacity, and to keep our buses and subways running. And with $50 billion in revenue generated each year, we also will be able to create a world-class universal health care system that will serve everybody in the state.
In 2019, we were both involved in the Housing Justice for All campaign that won historic gains for tenants. We organized for over a year together with countless ordinary New Yorkers who protested, called their legislators, and went up to Albany by the thousands to show Cuomo that we meant business. Just as real estate interests fought tooth and nail to keep us from winning protections for tenants, so the rich will fight us every step of the way to keep us from reducing the staggering inequality in our state.
Legislators will have to choose between protecting powerful interests and defending the lives and dignity of people who voted them into office. Your representatives need to know that you support taxing the rich. So call your state representatives today and tell them that you want them to pass the Invest in Our New York Act now, or volunteer for the campaign at TaxTheRichNYS.com.
Not only is the act overdue, it is urgent we pass it now, before Cuomo makes any more cuts to public services like hospitals, schools and the subway.
By standing up for themselves and sticking together, the Hunts Point workers have reminded us that all power lies with the people, and that when we organize and work together, we can win the world we deserve.
Adolfo Abreu is a city council candidate for the seat currently held by Fernando Cabrera. Samelys López is a former congressional candidate.