Widespread labor upheavals changed the political climate in 1930s America. The mass production industries were organized for the first time as thousands of new leaders –including significant numbers of women and people of color — led the revolt from the shop floor.
There were strikes waves that included sit-down strikes where workers actually occupied the workplace. Autoworkers in Flint Michigan kicked off the wave of sit-down strikes that spread into all sorts of workplaces.
Strikes for better conditions and union recognition were massive. For example, in 1934 alone, there were 1,856 strikes waged by 1,470,000 workers. Six million workers formed unions during the decade. Of the 38 new industrial unions, 18 were led by communists or other leftists until McCarthyism and the 1947 Taft-Hartly Act expelled them from the AFL-CIO. So furious was the class war that the New Deal was forced to recognize worker’s rights in an attempt to pacify labor relations.
Agrarian unrest rocked the heartland. The Farm Holiday Movement claimed 30,000 members and led protests of thousands demanding a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures. They blocked roads to disrupt markets and destroyed crops and products. In the 1933 the Wisconsin Milk Strike, lead by farmer cooperatives, destroyed milk products in an attempt to raise prices. Thousands of pounds of milk were trashed, creameries were bombed and protestors were shot by police.
Veterans were on the move. In 1932 “The Bonus Army” marched over 40,000 people on Washington DC where they occupied a corner of the national mall to demand the early payment of a bonus they already had coming. The veterans’ tent city was attacked by the US Army under the command of Douglass MacArthur and George Patton. Two veterans were killed and over a thousand injured. The threat of another march was headed off by the offer of jobs with the Civilian Conservation Corp — a federal jobs program. But still no bonus — instead FDR actually reappointed MacArthur. When FDR vetoed legislation passed by Congress in 1936 to secure an early bonus the Congress returned the bill with a veto-proof majority. The Bonus became law and the foundation was laid for the GI Bill.
Unemployed workers formed Unemployed Councils and demanded jobs and reliefs. Unemployment grew to over 25% at times and there was unrest and protest across the country. In March 1930, 500,000 people marched in 25 cities to demand relief. Many local demonstrations were brutally attacked by police. People died but we won unemployment insurance. The Workers Alliance of America originally demanded “the abolition of the profit system” and claimed to represent 400,000 people. They pushed for legislative reforms and progressive candidates. The unemployed movement was lead by communists, socialists, and assorted radicals.
You might dismiss this history by saying the conditions were so much worse back then. Maybe — maybe not. But, answer this: are our conditions not bad enough for you? Inequality crushes millions. Most Americans cannot cover a minor emergency. We have the greatest childhood poverty in the industrialized world and life-spans are decreasing. The corporate power has a monopoly over the political system and democracy is but a dim memory. Incarceration rates are without precedent and the Bill of Rights is in shambles. And we have existential problems never dreamed of in the Great Depression: endless war, the threat of nuclear war and impending environmental catastrophe. The big difference between then and now is in our minds. The big difference between then and now is in our minds. The corporate power wins because it still controls our minds. And the best means we have to contest their control and raise consciousness is organizing and movement building. That is what real change is.
How can we approach the revolutionary threshold in our time? If we do not commit ourselves to organizing and movement building we will never find out.
Taken from here