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March 6: Marches of the Unemployed

March 6, 2014
51839Half a million unemployed workers and their supporters marched in twenty-five cities across the U.S. on this date in 1930, in demonstrations that were led by the Unemployed Councils, which the Communist Party had organized the previous year. In Madison, Wisconsin, a demonstration at the capitol plaza by the Trade Union Unity League (a Communist rival to the AFL) was attacked by student athletes, who threw Council leader Lottie Blumenthal to the ground and tore down banners. “We are getting so damned many radical Jews here that something must be done,” said one of five students arrested. In New York, some 100,000 unemployed workers took to the streets and were attacked by police. “Women struck in the face with blackjacks,” wrote the New York World, “boys beaten by gangs of seven and eight policemen, and an old man backed into a doorway and knocked down time after time . . .” According to the International Socialist Review, the Unemployed Councils moved more than 77,000 evicted New York families back into their homes by 1932. Their success would lead to the formation of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee — with the backing of the American Federation of Labor.

“The communists brought misery out of hiding in the workers’ neighborhoods. They paraded it with angry demands through the main streets. . . . and on to City Hall. . . . Sometimes, I’d hear a communist speaker say something so bitter and extreme, I’d feel embarrassed. Then I’d look around at the unemployed audience—shabby clothes, expressions worried and sour. Faces would start to glow, heads to nod, hands to clap . . .” —Len De Caux