First Published: The Worker, for Hawaii, Vol. 1, No. 10, July-August 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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On July 5, the day after the big demonstration, over 70 representatives from more than 30 Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee chapters from Massachusetts to Hawaii met in Philadelphia. UWOC began on the West Coast over five years ago and has since grown to a national organization, but this demonstration was the first time members from across the country had joined together in one place to voice the demands of the unemployed and the whole working class. It was also the first time that elected representatives from around the country met to make plans for building UWOC and its campaigns.
Although tired, everyone present was full of excitement and determination, coming off the demonstration the day before and the four days of actions before it. The representatives had stayed with hundreds of other workers, employed and unemployed, in a tent city set up to dramatize the situation of the jobless. Discussion and debate, the exchange of experiences and views went on each day and night.
The meeting concentrated on the campaign for jobs, which has been UWOC’s main focus both overall and in building for the July 4 demonstration. With 10 million Americans unemployed, with millions more looking for a better job where they can at least make a living wage, with the capitalists using this giant pool of unemployed workers to threaten and hold down the living standard and struggle of employed workers, the fight for jobs is a major issue facing the whole working class. This was plenty clear April of last year when 40,000 workers, mostly employed, showed up at an AFL-CIO jobs rally in Washington, DC, and with UWOC playing a leading role, thousands booed down the parade of jive politicians like Hubert Humphrey and the top union hacks who had turned out to speak.
UWOC brought its petition to the July 4 demonstration this year demanding jobs at union wages or enough income to cover the cost of living until there are jobs. The quarter of a million signatures collected so far were carried in the front of the march in a pickup truck.
At the meeting, UWOC decided that chapters would continue collecting signatures on the Jobs or Income petition as part of organizing to win jobs. The overall approach UWOC should be taking to the campaign for jobs was summed up in a slogan put forward by people from New York and northern New Jersey, “Dig in and break out,” meaning fan the demand and struggle for jobs everywhere it crops up and spread it into a powerful, fighting movement involving not only those without jobs, but their employed class brothers and sisters, too.
The meeting discussed the battles to defeat the wide range of government attacks launched on the unemployed in recent months. One of the spearheads of this attack is the Hoffman Bill in New Jersey, which would force unemployed workers to take any job even if it meant a pay cut of up to 35%–enough to drive many workers down to minimum wage. This is even more than an attack on the right to unemployment insurance won by the working class in its mighty upsurge of struggle during the Depression. It is an open attempt to force down the wages of all workers in the state. One N.J. official showed what the capitalists are planning by describing the bill as “ten yards along the mile we have to go.”
A similar law went into effect in Rhode Island on July 4, a little party favor from the ruling class. Governor Rhodes of Ohio is talking about how using this kind of gimmick will ’attract more jobs” to his state. New Jersey UWOC has organized demonstrations against the Hoffman Bill and other chapters are ready to take on such schemes intended to provide the owners with a constant supply of beaten down unemployed workers, starving for peanuts, to force down wages and increase their profits.
All these battles will be taken up in the fighting spirit of “We won’t starve and we won’t scab!” UWOC is not some social service agency claiming to provide jobs that don’t exist, it is a fighting organization of the whole working class, pointing the resistance of the unemployed at the handful of parasites whose very system has unemployment built in.
There was a lively discussion at the conference of what it means to build unity between unemployed and employed and to build support among the unemployed for the struggles of employed workers. People agreed, for instance, that although it is necessary, it is not enough for UWOC members to join strike picket lines, but that every effort must be made to reach and mobilize jobless workers the bosses are trying to recruit as scabs, whether through private agencies or government programs.
The noisy applause at the end of the meeting reflected its accomplishments in laying plans for building and uniting the struggles of the unemployed. It also laid the basis for even greater advances–the representatives took home to their chapters a proposal that the Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee hold its first national convention sometime next spring!
The meeting also made plans to get out a special issue of the UWOC newsletter immediately, summing up the July 4th Rich Off Our Backs demonstration in Philadelphia and all the work building up to it.