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Hugo Oehler

Long Waits, Small Benefits Feature of Insurance Bills

(February 1935)

From The New Militant, Vol. I No. 8, 2 February 1935, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The post-war period has witnessed the rise of a permanent army of millions of unemployed workers in the leading capitalist nations. One after the other, these countries have been forced to adopt some form of unemployed and social insurance. The last to even consider, let alone adopt an unemployed insurance plan, is the United States. Although unemployment for the last four years has fluctuated around 16 million, the States and the Federal Government and the bosses have tried to keep unemployed relief on the basis of charity. They have attempted to ignore it as a social problem.

But the prolonged crisis, the failure of all relief measures, the failure to stimulate industry through government subsidy and the increased mass pressure of the working class has at last forced the capitalists and their government, to consider the question of unemployment insurance. They hope to give as few crumbs as possible, accompanied with a press campaign that creates the impression that Social Security is at hand.

If concessions must be given – then give a fake unemployment insurance plan. That seems to he the slogan. The bosses hope, thereby, to hold off more important concessions, such as the six-hour day and the five-day week with no reduction in pay.

They Call It Insurance

The various plans of the bosses and their government revolve around bills which, when passed mean nothing to the workers. These bills have long waiting periods, short periods in which the relief is given, small and inadequate amounts of benefits with discriminating clauses, to be administered by the bosses, with many of the working class excluded, and funds to be obtained through a tax on the workers or the employers and the employees. Relief in name, but not in fact!

A few of the many plans are the Wisconsin Act, the Bill proposed by the N.Y. State Federation of Labor, the William Green Plan, the Wagner-Lewis Bill, the Roosevelt Plan and the Lundeen Bill.

With the exception of the Lundeen Bill, the plans are attempts to sidetrack real unemployment insurance. The Wisconsin and Wagner-Lewis Plan and the William Green Plan endeavor to obtain the funds from the employers, but these bills have so many clauses that nullify the better sections that they are inadequate to say the least. All three bills exclude many classes of workers. The Wisconsin plan is for industrial workers only. All three plans have long periods of waiting, clauses that can be used by the bosses to discriminate against the workers, short periods of unemployed benefits, benefits that don’t equal the present relief rates in some of the leading cities, etc. Even less can be said for the N.Y. State Federation of Labor Plan.

Roosevelt’s “Plan”

The Roosevelt plan, presented in speeches by the President in the first period of this session of Congress, calls for inadequate relief to be paid by the tax on employers and employees, with state rights to decide if the employees pay the full amount, with long periods of waiting, short periods of benefits and the other fake ideas embodied in all of these plans in one form or the other.

Not Central Issue

The workers unemployment insurance bill presented by Lundeen, now listed as HR 2827 has been used by the C.P. Unemployment Councils as the central and practically sole demand. And therein the Councils have made a great mistake.

To direct the energies of the masses into a Bill, however good, is to give up the real battlefield of the unemployed – which must center around immediate relief, and the reduction of hours.

The unemployment insurance activity must be an auxiliary and not the central rallying slogan. It must, not be a slogan of a Bill, but on the other hand, it, cannot be mere abstract propaganda for unemployment insurance. Abstract unemployment insurance propaganda at this stage plays into the hands of the capitalists and their government in putting across their fake plans.

A definite plan of the workers like the Workers Bill must be counterposed to the bosses but this cannot be the central activity of the working class in the unemployed field.

Workers security cannot be obtained under capitalism. However, we must counterpose a workers plan to the Social Security plan for the bosses. This revolves around the five point program of: Immediate relief, social insurance, work relief, the thirty-hour week, and long term credits to the Soviet Union, with special emphasis on immediate relief struggles and the thirty-hour week in industry and on work relief jobs.

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