In the early years of the Great Depression of the 1930s, unemployed and impoverished workers turned to dramatic forms of self-help to survive. Anti-eviction “riots” led by organizations of the unemployed made it possible to protect hundreds of thousands of families from being evicted from their homes and ultimately forced government in many cities to halt evictions.
Forty million people or more have lost their jobs since the beginning of March. Including those not actively looking for work, nearly half of adults are jobless. While some of those initially laid off have returned to work, others who thought their layoffs were temporary have been reclassified as fired permanently.
The United States has entered the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. This commentary describes the grassroots movements of the early years of the Great Depression in order to learn something about the dynamics of popular response to depression conditions. These early unemployed, self-help, labor, and other movements helped lay the groundwork for the New Deal and the massive labor struggles of the later 1930s.
Black people are two-and-a-half times as likely as White people to catch COVID-19 and substantially more likely to be unemployed as a result of the pandemic. George Floyd, in addition to being murdered by racist police, was infected by COVID-19 and lost his job when the restaurant he worked for closed because of the pandemic.
We are in the midst of the largest mass uprising in half a century. It is a response to the killing of an unarmed Black man named George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman. But it challenges a pattern of Black oppression that goes far beyond one cop killing one Black person, indeed, far beyond the issues of police abuse of the Black community.
On February 26, 2012, a neighborhood watch coordinator in Sanford, Florida, named George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed African American seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin. Two weeks later Zimmerman was charged with murder. Zimmerman claimed self-defense. A year and a half later he was acquitted.
Since the beginning of coronavirus lockdowns, the words “essential workers” are suddenly on everyone’s lips. Hospital orderlies, bathroom cleaners, bus drivers – until recently ignored, denigrated, and underpaid – are suddenly treated as heroes. Locked-down Americans stand in front of their houses at 7:00 pm to applaud them. Politicians give speeches celebrating them. These workers were always essential to the running of our society, but now they are being recognized as such. Recognized — but abused more than ever.
This is the fourth in a series of commentaries proposing an Emergency Green New Deal. Mass unemployment, misery, and impoverishment require emergency response not only to the medical pandemic but to the economic catastrophe that is accompanying it. “The Coronavirus Depression and the Emergency Green New Deal” explores a program tailored to the realities of the economic emergency.
When I look at the so-called “world order” of the human race, I lick my chops. In the good old days, my ancestors used to be able to conduct pandemics around the world without interference. And it looks like the good old days are coming back!