By Mike Paradela, member of the Northern California Unemployed Committee
Hello! We are the Northern California Unemployed Committee. We are a new organization that focuses specifically on the struggle for the rights of the unemployed! We have three primary demands:
- restore the $600 weekly supplement
- end federal taxation of unemployment
- make the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance permanent
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At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, many of us looked around and saw the horrible conditions to which workers were being subjected to. Unemployment surged upward and peaked at 15%. Workers are still struggling, as their bosses laid them off and they no longer had the money to pay their rent and bills. With an outdated computer system, the Employment Development Department (EDD) had failed and is still failing to finish the processing of all the hundreds of thousands of unemployment claims. Although there were workers who received their unemployment claims processed, the supplementary federal $600 a week that was added to unemployment payments, which made the difference for many unemployed workers, was short-lived. Meanwhile, the federal government has only given American workers $3,200 since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
We felt a sense of urgency to form some sort of unemployed council, as workers did in the past. There were some obstacles to getting one running, but eventually we formed the Northern California Unemployed Committee at the beginning of January 2021. Since then, we have committed to fighting for the unemployed workers of Northern California, where we live, while forging solidarity with employed workers!
The fight for unemployment insurance began almost 100 years ago. Some cities had a modicum of unemployment relief; it was mostly degrading and cruel. Around the 1920s was when local groups organized for better unemployment relief. After the stock market crash of 1929, American society sank into the Great Depression. Unemployment peaked at around 25%. The Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) observed the horrible conditions around them, and united with the Trade Union Unity League (TUUL) and the Young Communist League (YCL) to mobilize and organize unemployed workers. They began with areas where they had large presences already to organize mass demonstrations and marches. On March 6, 1930, the CPUSA with TUUL organized 1,250,000 people to protest in cities across the nation. Doing more work along the way, they brought pressure on bosses, local relief boards, city, state, and the federal government. This brought about National Unemployment Insurance Day on May 1, 1930.
In Chicago on July 4, 1930, the unemployed formed the National Unemployed Council. The CPUSA, TUUL, and YCL established unemployed councils up in cities across the nation. This movement, while focusing mainly on unemployment, included trade unions, fraternal societies, Black organizations, and more.
These councils fought for unemployment insurance, cash and work relief, food for school children, eviction relief, and against systemic racism. Their main political demand was for the Workers Unemployment Insurance Bill. Their other demands included: unemployment insurance for all workers, cash relief by local and federal government, free rent and utilities to unemployed workers (including reduced prices for part-time workers, and no evictions, foreclosures, and repossessions for unemployed workers), public work labor projects in working-class neighborhoods, seven-hour workday, full-time wages for part-time workers, ending racial discrimination, and veterans’ compensation.
To struggle for these demands, they held mass meetings, organized marches and parades, picketed, went on hunger marches, and many other forms of agitation and protest. One of their key moments was organizing national hunger marches to Washington DC. The Unemployed Councils organized rent relief actions and stopped evictions. They also helped farmers organize in rural areas to organize milk strikes and other actions.
The Unemployed Councils established a solidarity between the unemployed and the employed workers. The Unemployed Councils had the support of 3,000 local unions, 35 city central labor councils, 6 state federations, and 5 international unions. In 1935, the US federal government established the Social Security Act. It contained an unemployment insurance program based on state and federal statutes. Soon after, the Unemployed Councils disbanded one by one until the Workers’ Alliance of America (WAA) absorbed the last of them. However, the WAA disbanded during World War II.