International Unemployment Day: The 1930 revolt against capitalist crisis
Foreground: Groups of unemployed march in front of the White House in Washington on March 6, 1930. / AP | Background: The March 6, 1930 front page of the Daily Worker. / People's World Archives (Illustration by PW)

This article is part of the People’s World 100th Anniversary Series.

On March 6, 1930, in the depths of the Great Depression, millions of jobless workers around the world took to the streets in cities around the world. “International Unemployment Day,” as the mass demonstrations became known, had been called by the Communist International and organized by member parties in various countries.

In the United States, the Communist Party USA called upon the unemployed to take over cities around the country to protest the anarchy of capitalism and ruling class efforts to push all the suffering of the Depression onto the working class. The Daily Worker newspaper spent weeks publicizing the campaign and building support for it under the slogans, “Don’t Starve—Fight!” and “Work or Wages!”

Unemployment in the U.S. was over 7,000,000 at the time. More than 30 U.S. cities saw mass rallies on March 6, with turnout estimated at 1.25 million workers.

Over 100,000 marched in both New York and Detroit, 50,000 each in Chicago and Pittsburgh, 30,000 in both Philadelphia and Cleveland, 20,000 in Youngstown, 15,000 in Buffalo and Canton, and 10,000 in D.C. Thousands more hit the streets in San Francisco, L.A., Seattle, Denver, Baltimore, and other cities.

At the New York rally, heavily armed police attacked demonstrators, but CPUSA leader William Z. Foster defied police and led the march to the steps of City Hall. There, he was arrested, along with two other CPUSA leaders, Robert Minor and Israel Amter.

In Detroit, jobless workers fought a two-hour battle with police, with 26 people sent to hospital. Chicago Police made their move before the demonstration, raiding the headquarters of the Communist Party and International Labor Defense multiple times ahead of March 6. The actions failed to stop workers from turning out to demand jobs, however.

Similar scenes repeated around the globe. Two workers were killed in Berlin and there were mass casualties in Vienna when fascists attacked demonstrators. and the Basque city of Bilbao. Marchers in London and Sydney were largely able to resist police violence.

Organizing International Unemployment Day was pivotal for the CPUSA. In retrospect, it was seen as the moment when the party stepped out as a leading voice on the progressive left and in the labor movement. It had not yet freed itself of the sectarianism of the 1920s, but the party proved it was in touch with mass sentiment. Over 6,000 people applied for membership in the Communist Party in the weeks that followed. In the words of one analyst, March 6, 1930 propelled the party into the public consciousness, making it “a recognized power, a major American political factor.”

The editorial below appeared in the Daily Worker on the morning of March 6. Expressing the anger of workers against the capitalism but also brimming with revolutionary confidence, the editors of the newspaper laid out the demands for a way out of the crisis. It stands as a declaration of working-class resistance in the Depression decade that was just opening.



Daily Worker, March 6, 1930

The workers of the whole capitalist world will show the capitalist bosses today that their system of capitalist wage slavery, which has already condemned 7,000,000 American workers to unemployment and hunger, will not much longer be tolerated by its millions of victims. C

Capitalism has no remedy for the breakdown of its own system of pillage, exploitation, murder, and starvation of the useful members of society.

Only the working class, by its own revolutionary action against the capitalist class and government, can and will solve this problem.

Capitalist politicians of the Democratic, Republican, and Socialist Parties and the A. F. of L.—are now putting forward hypocritical proposals to meet the unemployment situation, but hoping only to deceive the working class, to quiet down the mass movement of the workers.

But only by the mass movement itself—only because the workers have massed in the streets and have by direct action taken their right of speech and assemblage—only because of the mass pressure of hundreds of thousands of workers—have the capitalist fakers been compelled to admit that the unemployment of millions of workers is the most pressing national political issue of today.

The lesson is clear that more mass pressure is the only way to compel even the slightest concession for the benefit of the workers.

The workers will supply that mass pressure by demonstrating today at Union Square in New York in many tens of thousands, just as they will demonstrate in every other city of the United States and every city of the capitalist world.

Unemployed workers and employed workers are equally involved. Not only class solidarity but also the present capitalist offensive against the workers in the shops, demand that the workers now at work should strike the whole shop and walk out as a mass to Union Square.

The workers demonstrate not only against unemployment but also against the speed-up system which saps the life of the workers who remain at the bench, while more millions are thrown out of work. The workers demonstrate against the wholesale wage cuts and wholesale discharges of workers now being enforced in every industry.

An illustration from inside the March 6, 1930 edition of the Daily Worker. | People’s World Archives

We demonstrate against capitalist “rationalization,” against the discharge of more hundreds of thousands of workers. We demonstrate for the shortening of the work day to seven hours, without any reduction in pay.

The proposal…to appropriate money amounting to a few cents per head of the unemployed workers and their families is directly connected up with the hope of the capitalist class to plunge this country into world war…. The capitalist government at Washington is planning the bloody crime of imperialist war for the purpose of destroying the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, the revolutionary workers’ government which has already solved the problems of capitalism by overthrowing the capitalist class. But the American working class will defend the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics against our own Wall Street government of labor exploiters.

A cartoon promoting International Unemployment Day by Daily Worker cartoonist Fred Ellis. | People’s World Archives

The fascist tools of the capitalist class…are coming forward as the political leaders of the fascist offensive of the capitalists against the workers. But the workers will depend upon themselves and their own mass strength, and will develop this movement toward a mass political strike! The only fighters for the unemployed workers in the shops have proven to be the Communist Party and the Trade Union Unity League, together with the hundreds of thousands of workers who have come to their support…. Organize in the revolutionary trade unions! Unemployed workers, form Councils of Unemployed and unite with the revolutionary unions of the Trade Union Unity League! Join the Communist Party!

Fight for unemployment relief—full wages for all unemployed workers, men and women, for the whole time of unemployment!

For full wages for all workers working part-time!

For the seven-hour day—five-day week!

Against capitalist “rationalization,” the speed-up, against the discharge of workers.

Against the fascist labor fakers…who aid the bosses!

Defend the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics! Against imperialist war!

All workers, employed and unemployed, men, women and youth, Negro and white—all out to the demonstration today.

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Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.