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January 22: Fighting Evictions in the Bronx

January 22, 2014
VOA evictionSome 4,000 tenants participated in a “rent riot” on this date in 1932 when police tried to evict seventeen tenants from 2302 Olinville Avenue in the Bronx. The neighborhood was populated predominantly by Eastern European Jewish workers who had escaped the Lower East Side and the South Bronx and had been organized by Communist-led Unemployed Councils, as the Great Depression deepened, to withhold rents, stop evictions, and demand repairs. “When the marshals moved into the building and the first stick of furniture appeared on the street,” writes Mark Naison in the International Socialist Review, “the crowd charged the police and began pummeling them with fists, stones, and sticks . . . The outnumbered police barely held their lines until reinforcements arrived. As the police once again moved to disperse the crowd, the strikers agreed to a compromise offer that called for two- to three-dollar reductions for each apartment and the return of evicted families to their apartments.” According to the report in the Bronx Home News, “When news of the settlement reached the crowd, they promptly began chanting the Internationale and waving copies of the Daily Worker as though they were banners of triumph.” Evictions in two other buildings in the neighborhood sparked similar resistance, and the anti-eviction movement spread throughout the city and lasted for well over a year. “The majority of participants (using names of evicted tenants or arrested protesters as a guide) were Jewish, with some representation of Italians, Slavs, and Blacks. Irish-Americans, though composing a large percentage of the city’s working class, were almost entirely absent from the striking group (they tended to deal with tenant grievances through their local political clubs rather than through the left). Launched by communists as part of a comprehensive unemployment strategy, the strike had the aura of a communal revolt by Eastern European immigrants.” —Mark Naison