At its height, before 5 p.m., there were probably 3,000 people present — solidly massed from 42nd street to 41st street and a major number from 41st street to 40th street. Unions: construction, SEIU 1199 and 32BJ, Hot and Crusty, Carwash, and Professional Staff Congress (PSC).
There was a very strong presence of construction workers, especially carpenters, many of whom were women of color. NY state reports job losses in construction were fairly high, around 12,500 in the past year, which might be a partial explanation for their turnout. They blocked 7th Ave for 15 minutes or so and pushed back at the cops who tried to push barricades into the crowd until the speakers at the podium asked them to move onto the sidewalk and the one lane in the permit.
One of the first speakers was the leader of the struggle to organize car wash workers, who talked about respect and wages and the need for a union, pensions, and Social Security. Many, many speakers raised these issues, including the speaker for the carpenters who proposed unions for every worker — from construction to Walmarts to MickyDees — which would solve the financial crisis affecting the country because so many more people would be paying taxes on the vastly increased salaries they would be getting.
A car wash in Soho, a community in Manhattan, has declared its workers are not employees, and has decided not to pay them. A contingent went from the demo to protest at this car wash. Another contingent went to McDonald’s, went in and chanted a bit, and then left.
Most of the speakers who raised the fiscal cliff supported the demands of the low wage workers present. One member of the PSC, which represents the faculty and staff at the City University of New York, told me that the PSC should support the fast food workers because they are looking to gain a union with a contract, and the PSC also wants a contract.
The tone of the speakers was militant and urgent, with a feeling that conditions for workers in NYC are at a tipping point.
The politicians who spoke — Democratic candidates for mayor — got their opportunity in the last 15 minutes or so of the rally, after most of the participants had left. I don’t know if this was deliberate.
Video by Chiara Cavallazzi