Mar 15, 2021
Thousands gathered in front of the White House to demonstrate against skyrocketing unemployment and racial injustice. They carried signs saying, “We demand Work or Wages” and “Fight Police Brutality.” Black and white workers demonstrated together until police broke up the crowd with tear gas and billy clubs.
Sound like something that happened last year? Yes, but this happened back in March of 1930, when the economic boom of the 1920s became a mere memory, replaced by a stock market crash and a severe contraction of the interdependent capitalist economies of the world.
Unemployment became a mass phenomenon on a world scale. Hunger, homelessness, and evictions were features of this Great Depression in the United States. Jobs disappeared and working conditions deteriorated. By 1933, one-third of farm families had lost their farms. Unemployment that year was 25%. The lives of working people were devastated.
The demonstration in front of the White House was part of International Unemployment Day (March 6, 1930). This coordinated, international campaign of marches and demonstrations was organized by the Communist International. It was marked by hundreds of thousands of people in major cities around the world taking to the streets to protest the mass unemployment associated with the Great Depression.
In the United States, full-scale riots erupted in New York City and Detroit when thousands of baton-wielding police attacked tens of thousands of marchers. A total of 30 American cities in all saw mass demonstrations as part of the March 6 campaign, including Boston, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Seattle.
During the 1930s there were many battles and protests. This movement led to the passage of unemployment insurance in seven states by 1932 and to President Franklin D. Roosevelt passing the Social Security Act of 1935, providing federal unemployment. While the movement did not go far enough, there are some important take-aways from this time when workers, black and white, across the country, fought together against an unfair and failed system.
Today, the working class faces devastation as well. Twenty-two million jobs disappeared between March and April of 2020. It took three years for a comparable loss during the Great Depression.
We have the opportunity to pick up the fights of the ‘30s where they left off, but to take it all the way. The working class has to take power and run society. Anything less leaves us at the mercy of the wealthy class.