Unemployment Committees

MARIPOWER716 at aol.com MARIPOWER716 at aol.com
Tue May 13 14:43:02 MDT 2003

>What is surprising is that the labor movement has not caught on to this
potential - a union of the unemployed.  This is the ticket for the
movement's survival in an age when union membership is shrinking due to
job loss in unionized sectors and anti-union attitude in growth, mostly
high tech and financial services sectors.

If there are union organizers on these lists, lets hope they get the

Henry C.K. Liu


To my knowledge, the last attempts at forming unemployment committees were
made in the Mid West were during the period of roughly 1974-1980.
Unemployment has skyrocketed and the demand was summarized in a slogan.
"Jobs, Peace and Equality."  Most of us in and out of industrial production
fighting to form unemployment committees were under 30 years old - I was 22
yrs., and only had a vague idea of how to mobilize the unemployed. The
cyclical nature of auto was running on the basis of a major layoff of workers
every 36 months.

Our first task was to visit the local offices of the FBI - Federal Bureau of
Investigation, and comb through their body of historical literature. I
accepted this assignment and finally located what was being sought, the old
Communist Party Literature on the role and organizational structure of
Unemployment Councils.

The Unemployment Councils and Committee were charge with organizing those
laid-off workers into a form that allowed them to press for work, income and
means to sustain subsistence. Several "Unemployed Committee" were set up as
appendages to Local union structures in the auto industry. At my place of
employment - Local 51, the push for an Unemployment Committee was supported
by most of the local union leaders under enormous pressure to deal with the
mass of unemployed that crowed the monthly union meetings. During the good
times Local 51 consisted of roughly 10,000 members located at two primary
facilities and several smaller supplier plants. Lynch Road assembly contained
roughly 5500 and Mound Road Engine 3500 workers. On that basis the political
deal for the organization of the actual structure of the unemployed committee
was struck: the Chairperson was from Lynch Road Assembly - a member of the
International Socialist, and myself as Vice-Chairperson from the Communist

I distinctly remember one of our mass actions being a mass march on an
Unemployment Office demanding an extension of benefits for laid off office
workers and everyone else - which was won. The unemployed committee would
also exert pressure on the company to do away with overtime hours inside the
plants and increase employment to meet swings in demand.

By the time of the massive downturn of 1978-1981, the local, state and
federal political structures had a better understanding of how to contain
this social movement. If memory serves me correct the Trade Readjustment Act
(TRA) was passed in 1978 and laid off autoworkers received lump sum payments
of $6000 - $11,000.00 dollars in addition to extended unemployment benefits.

There was always a certain tension between the Unemployment Committee and the
structure of the trade unions, which be definition are organized to protect
the rights and interest of those actively working. Nevertheless the strength
of the trade union movement is that it is the organized section of the labor
movement. My direct involvement with the Unemployment Committee ended in 1978
when I returned to work from being laid-off. I am not exactly sure why the
Unemployment Committees could not maintain themselves. Some of the reason has
to do with a certain mobility of the American people and the up and down
cyclical nature of work. Each new wave of unemployed workers would contain
people with a certain sense of organization that comes from industrial
production but primitive skills as organizers and propagandist.

The workers seeking out an organized form of protest tended to be those
conditioned to work and would eventually seek out and find other employment
opportunity. By the time of the massive downturn of the early 1980s - I was
laid off in January 11, 1980 and would not be called back until January 1984
or for 4 years, the unemployment committees had crumbled to a large degree
and began to give way to Welfare Rights Organizations led and focused on
unemployed women.

I ended up going South and finding work in the temporary day labor market.
Might be time to visit the Fed's again and dig up the pamphlet on
Unemployment Committees, although intuition says the scope and dynamics of
this downturn is somewhat different. Or locate this literature on the
Internet. The fight is taking place on the basis of adhoc committees formed
to address specific issues. About 18 months ago I work a piece for Marxline
about what would become the water struggle in Detroit. At the time I did no
sense the potential for a mass movement that would emerge a year later. My
direct involvement occurred when the city sent me a bill for $40,000 (that's
forth thousand dollars).  Unable to cut the red tape I ended up having to
call the local TV station ad get the story filmed and put on the news.

The depth and breath of rising unemployment and the pension crisis, which is
to hit hard in the coming years is outside anything I have experienced. In
the city in which I live - in the main surrounded by Detroit, the city
government long ago collapsed and city workers - primarily women, have lost
their pensions and been emotionally and mentally devastated. City government
collapse means there is no fire department, water department, police
department, civil service workers in the main. None, Nada. If your house
catch on fire you are screwed royally. There is a lone water man whose job is
to cut off your water for nonpayment unless you challenge him and tell him to
take a hike.

Then there was an exceptionally violent struggle that erupted about a year
ago around education, funding and the right to elected local school
officials. Then there was the march supporting affirmative action several
months ago in the wake of Bush Jr. attack on the University of Michigan
affirmative action program.

I have not a clue as to the form of the mass struggle although I am aware
that the individual as individual can impact this form and give it shape. The
organized workers - Trade Union Movement, are already drawn into the social
fight as they lose members and impact the labor movement. Seems to me the new
level of struggle is coalescing and being born. I am not sure if the
generation disconnect with the pass generation of communist organizers is all
bad. Without question our organizing and propaganda skill will be put to
work, but the form of the struggle is still elusive.

A league form of organization of revolutionaries is needed but not an
ideological grouping or "Marxist" organization. The organization of
revolutionaries prime directive is to ensure that groups of people in motion
stay on track and fight for only those things they are fighting for and not
be disrupted from their goals.  No hidden agenda schemes but mastering the
objective logic of social forces and how they interact. For example a group
fighting to change the government policy on water rights should never have to
vote on whether or not they support affirmative action, unless affirmative
action means my right to have water. An aspect of what is called the class
struggle as it emerges is the tendency of the working class to fight itself.

On the Internet Marxline represents a certain national and International
league form of organization in its fight around specific political issues of
the day. Who knows what the next decade or two holds. This summer may turn
out to be "hotter than July."

Melvin P.

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