Workers’ Correspondence

I have a route to the train station I’ve been taking since 1981. It starts out in southern Queens, N.Y., and meanders into Ridgewood, Brooklyn.

It used to be a bustling route, with people hurriedly stopping at the only bodega on Wyckoff Avenue between Summerfield and Schaeffer for their coffee and breakfast and then on to work. The route was dotted with small and medium-sized knitting mills.

A former neighbor of mine bought into one of these mills in 1999. The last time we talked he told me, “If the business lasts one more year I’ll be lucky.”

A building at Cody and Wyckoff avenues prompted me to write this article. The building spans an entire block. It once housed at least two knitting shops and a metal workshop. As I passed by each morning, I’d see workers gathered around a vending truck, buying coffee, sandwiches and the like.

The building is now a storage house, with not a soul to be seen.

In the 1950s there were approximately 500 of these knitting mills in this area. They employed over half a million workers, mostly from Europe. As the work began moving to the South in the ’60s and ’70s — to “right to work” states where unions were weak and wages low — the city’s union shops couldn’t compete. The shops that remained here were nonunion, with the workforce coming from Central America, South America and Mexico.

Enter NAFTA, CAFTA — the global economy. There are now only five or six knitting mills left. My neighbor’s shop has since closed. His primary customer now sends his cloth to be finished overseas.

My walk has become a lonely one. Sure, there are still some workers left, but the spirit is gone. Perhaps they feel as I do. It’s not that I want to return to the past. What we do expect in a democracy, however, is for our government to protect its workers, not to pander to employers who encourage a “race to the bottom.”

Our economic system is sick with profit-making, literally destroying neighborhoods and cities with complete disregard for the livelihoods of its people.

I can’t get used to it.

— Gabe Falsetta,
retired typesetter, Queens