On February 1, 1968, two Black Memphis sanitation workers were crushed to death when the compactor on their truck was accidentally triggered. It was the last in a series of events that would eventually lead the city’s majority Black sanitation workforce to go on strike, demanding safer work conditions, better wages, and union recognition. What makes this strike even more significant is that these Black workers were fighting for comprehensive economic justice in the context of the 1960s Freedom Struggle, which demanded an end to state-sanctioned racial violence in all its forms.
On November 10, 2015, Black workers will again be striking for the Fight for $15’s National Day of Action, and just as it was for the Black sanitation workers almost 50 years ago, today’s fight is about more than just higher wages. Black workers across the country are demanding economic justice against the backdrop of the ongoing Movement for Black Lives, which like the Freedom Struggle, recognizes that violence against Black people in today’s society is multi-fold and interconnected.
Black people in New York City are not safe. BYP 100 members have written elsewhere about the slow, grinding and destructive violence that poverty inflicts on unemployed, underemployed, and low wage earning Black communities. There is a direct relationship between the economic violence of low wages and the violence of over-policing and mass incarceration committed against poor, Black communities in the name of “safety.” The Fight for $15, in its explicit demand for a living wage and union rights, is seeking to address one manifestation of this violence – and has had some successes so far. However, most minimum wage wins won’t go into effect until years from now, and unionization is still far on the horizon. Workers need the raise – and a union – now.
While politicians and corporations are reluctant to invest in workers, they are more than willing to invest in over-policing these workers in their neighborhoods. Currently, NYC spends an estimated $6 billion a year on policing, including wages, weapons, surveillance, pensions, litigation settlements, and other expenses. Black Youth Project 100 questions the rhetoric of “safety” used by many to justify this allocation of resources. Our collective experience and our #CommunityOverPolicing community outreach project point to a vision of safety that takes the form of healthy and strong communities; not policing, imprisonment and poverty wages.
In NYC, a commitment to safety would mean literally taking money out of the NYPD’s budget and investing it in: creating new jobs, community schools, mental health services, affordable housing, and other areas that address the root causes of crime and lead to safer communities than armed terrorist cops do. It would mean understanding that we must insist on protecting our Black women and femmes, immigrants, differently-abled folks, queer folks, transgender folks, and gender nonconforming folks, who are particularly vulnerable to state-sanctioned violence and are disproportionately represented in low-wage work. A commitment to NYC workers, especially the underpaid and undervalued home care workers and child care workers that the Fight for $15 has lifted up, would mean moving money from police and prison budgets and better funding the government subsidies that would ensure these workers get paid a living wage with benefits.
On November 10th, we continue the tradition of resistance in labor that our ancestors started, as workers and their allies from across New York City and across the nation strike to demand that our elected officials – especially those running in 2016 – commit to investing in our safety through a living wage now, union rights, and defunding the police. Join us in demanding an investment in our safety.
Feature photo: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Body photo: BYP 100 NYC