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Arne Swabeck

Unite Employed and Unemployed in Relief Struggle

(October 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 28 (Whole No. 87), 31 October 1931, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In at least the same ratio by which growth of unemployment and wage cuts go hand In hand increases also the importance of effecting unity of action of the workers who are employed with the unemployed. Moreover, when facing the inescapable future prospect of a standing army of unemployed, this issue becomes one of major importance.

That unemployment is still increasing is substantiated by the United States Department of Labor. According to its monthly report for September of statistics obtained from the various manufacturing establishments throughout the country, it is made clear that for every 100 persons employed 3.58 were taken on as compared with 5.62 laid off. The extent to which wage cuts inevitably follow in the train of the increasing unemployment by capitalism utilizing the situation to shift the whole of its burden upon the workers, is also revealed by Department of Labor report. Thus during the first eight months of 1931 there were a total of 1,895 wage cuts, the average reduction applied being about 10 percent.

All present indications bear out the contention that with the continued reduction of the standard of living and the increasing pressure upon the workers they will inevitably be set into motion to resist. Nevertheless the distance still to be traveled to make this resistance a broad and effective one becomes clear by an analysis the number of wage disputes during the present crisis as compared to the one of 1920–21. These figures are illuminating. The wage disputes listed by the Department of Labor were:

First seven months of 1920



First seven months of 1921


First seven months of 1931


In the first instance it must be remembered that 1920–21 occurred in a period when workers actually were in motion to maintain their most recent gains and further elevate their position. It was an aftermath of the great strikes of 1919 and the methods of militancy still prevailing. In the intervening period the illusions of bourgeois prosperity became deeply rooted. Deterioration of the trade union movement proceeded apace, feeding upon the false sense of security. But what cannot be overlooked by revolutionists is the salient fact that, growing out of this situation, the working class enemy has made considerable progress in its obvious designs to separate the unemployed from the employed workers, to isolate the former in order to facilitate the defeat of their struggle for actual relief, and to utilize their position to keep the employed in submission.

Opponents Divert Unemployed Issue Into False Channels

This prospect is fraught with serious dangers to the American proletariat as a whole. Worse, however is the fact that the tactics and organization methods pursued by the official party leadership have unwittingly played into the hands of the class enemy, strengthening them in their designs. While the party is undisputably at the head of whatever organized unemployed activities exist today, it has failed in the main object of uniting the employed with the unemployed. If another sharp “turn” is contemplated by the party leadership, which, of course, is to be expected, we ask emphatically that this be the first turn to be considered without delay.

From its early stage of mass response to party calls for unemployment demonstrations, the movement in every respect, including its actual organized expression, has become reduced to a position of vegetation. The center of the stage has been taken by the reserves mobilized by monopoly capitalism. The so-called progressives from within the class enemy’s camp have taken up the unemployment issue and to a large extent have already succeeded in diverting the objective away from struggle and into the illusory channels of hope from capitalist charity crumbs. They have made themselves the spokesmen for relief, in a manner seemingly occupying an unusual radical position. Senator Borah proclaims the necessity to tax the rich for the benefit of the unemployed but carefully avoids any concrete steps in that direction. Governor Roosevelt made proposals for extended charity measures of relief. Governor Murray (“Alfalfa Bill”) violently denounces the bankers for their guilt in this situation. Senators and congressmen and sections of the capitalist press speak vigorously for relief – alas, as opposed to actual unemployment insurance. Unquestionably there is much fishing for issues and preparations for the 1932 elections. But it just as assuredly reinforces the conclusion that these spokesmen for the petty-bourgeois interests, caught in the squeezers of advancing monopoly capitalism, have actually become alarmed by the much more dreaded spectre of potential proletarian revolt. True to their position and driven by these fears, they hurry to become the reserves of monopoly capitalism and forestall the greater danger.

Unemployed and Employed Must Be United in Struggle

On a whole these attempts at diverting the issues into the channels of illusions serve first of all to blunt the edge of the proletarian struggle. Secondly it serves to strengthen the endeavors to dislodge the Communist leadership of the unemployed masses Thirdly, it serves to facilitate the general efforts to separate the unemployed from their class brothers and to isolate their struggle for easier defeat.

The enormous increase of productive capacity under monopoly capitalism creates all the conditions for the standing army of the unemployed. Its constant overproduction can seek an outlet in the recurring crises which accentuate the unemployment problem. The fact of the increase of output per man, reliably calculated at from 48 to 50 per cent during the last decade, just that much more emphasizes the permanency of unemployment even during the future upward economic conjuncture. The violent slashing of the workers’ standard of living, now so much intensified, accentuates the indications of the capitalist preparations to gain a respite for them from the crisis. But with the prospects of the standing unemployed army remaining under such a possible upward economic conjuncture, there are reasons aplenty for an ever sharper emphasis upon the need of unity of employed and unemployed workers. There can be no successful struggle for relief, for actual unemployment insurance, without it. To the employed workers facing the inevitability of resistance to the attacks, it be comes a question of serious magnitude Today the crowding of unemployed workers at the factory gates seeking work is the club effectively wielded over their heads to make them hesitate and submit. For tomorrow’s struggles it is necessary that this threat be removed by making clear the common objectives of both categories of the class and uniting their efforts for its realization.

Party Recognizes Narrowness of Unemployment Movement

It appears that the party leadership has learned at least one lesson from past experiences. Piatnitsky, commenting upon the Weaknesses in Our Unemployed Work, says that the unemployed workers movement in “America was attached to the weak red trade unions, which are few enough in number. The association with the ‘red trade unions’ and ‘revolutionary trade union opposition’ drove away the unemployed who belonged to other political parties and to the reformist, catholic and other trade union organizations.” (Daily Worker, 10-13-31)

Small and criminally belated as this recognition is, it is nevertheless to be welcomed. However, we clearly and much more emphatically warned against precisely that at the’ time of the very formation of the national unemployment councils on July 4, 1930 in Chicago. We said in these columns:

For a United Front

“Certainly the successful carrying on of the struggle for the unemployed means to spare no effort to really unite T.U.U.L.”

Further, commenting upon the working class, which cannot be done within the narrow framework of the the detailed measures of organization we declared:

“These added mechanical limits isolate the movement and confine it within that section of the workers ready to join the ‘revolutionary unions’ There could be no better way of actually preventing a mass basis of struggle for the unemployed. The social reformists will thus have a free field to rally all those workers who in vain search for a job are turning away from their capitalist ideology, but are not yet ready to join the ‘revolutionary unions’. In that broad field the social reformists can continue to sow their seeds of illusion and deceit. But it is precisely also in that field that a united front struggle around the burning issues of unemployment as well as the very question of Communist activities has such rich potentialities.” (The Militant, July 26, 1930)

However, despite this present recognition by the party leadership, it proceeds yet essentially on the same basis. It is now intensifying the activities of hunger marches and connecting it with punblicly arranged hearings on the misery of unemployment. This serves to emphasize the needs of the unemployed but still ignores the essential aspect of the needs of the class. When standing alone it lends itself to facilitate all the efforts of capitalism to separate the unemployed from the employed and to isolate the struggles of the former.

It is necessary for the Communist movement to fight relentlessly for mitigation of the misery of unemployment. It must, however, to be successful, be done in such a way as to provide for the maximum of working class unity. It is necessary to repeat again that in this field especially there is an opportunity of a broad united front policy.

It is the one where the most elementary class objectives, aspirations and activities of the workers can be united. The recent A.F. of L. convention again demonstrated its servile capitalist character and refused to consider even the need of unemployment insurance. So much more should that now be considered an opportunity to press forward for Communist leadership on this issue. An actual, united front foundation for the uemployed movement embracing also the A.F. of L. unions would be a good beginning.

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