How Red-Led Mass Actions Stopped Foreclosures in the Great Depression

Over two million workers’ families could lose their homes because of the subprime crisis. The bosses’ media says basically nothing can be done about the foreclosures, caused by the bankers’ thirst for profits.

Clinton’s and Obama’s “solutions” merely postpone the “inevitable,” proposing “negotiated compromises” between the banks and homeowners who can’t afford mortgage payments. The Federal Reserve bails out failing banks and McCain says “the free market will take care of things.”

But 75 years ago during the Great Depression, the working class — led by communists — had a better idea, and it wasn’t voting.

When the marshals were evicting workers from their homes — throwing their belongings onto the street — or family farmers were losing their homesteads, hundreds and thousands of workers would show up on the day of the eviction or foreclosure and literally overwhelm the marshals and the cops and simply carry the furniture back into the workers’ homes. A NY Times headline (Feb. 27, 1932) read: “1,500 Fight Police to Aid Rent Strike.”

When bankers or realtors at auctions were bidding on foreclosed Iowa homesteads, hundreds of neighbors would show up, surrounding them, and while one farmer — “fingering a rope” —  would menace the rich bidders, another would bid a penny for the farm. “Sold” cried the auctioneer, and then the “buyer” would return the farm to the foreclosed owner.

When a jobless worker was being denied “home relief” (welfare), 5,000 fellow unemployed would show up to make sure it was granted.

How was all this organized? In the early 1930’s, when capitalism had laid off 17 million workers (one of every three workers was unemployed), the Communist Party led the organization of the National Unemployment Councils (NUC). On March 6, 1930, the Councils organized 1,250,000 jobless to take on the streets — 110,000 packed New York City’s Union Square, and were attacked by 25,000 cops whose bosses feared the start of a “revolution”; 100,000 unemployed marched in Detroit, 50,000 in Chicago and Pittsburgh, thousands more in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

These mass Councils stopped thousands of evictions and foreclosures cold. In New York City, 185,794 families got eviction notices in the first six months of 1932. The Unemployment Councils moved over 77,000 back into their homes. On February 1, 1932, the NY Times reported that a “crowd numbering…1,000…stormed the police” to fight the eviction of three Bronx families.

Black workers were the hardest hit and became the most active in the Councils, leading many of the anti-eviction struggles, which fought racism as a number one priority.

By 1938, the NUC had a membership of 800,000. They helped stop scabs as workers struck for unionization and the 8-hour day. There was great unity between the employed and unemployed as all saw it in their class interest to fight their struggles together.

Matthew Woll, an AFL union “leader,” labeled this movement a “Kremlin conspiracy,” but the NUC, with communists playing a leading role, vehemently rejected this red-baiting.

It was out of this mass ferment that the CIO organized industrial unions. It all forced the Roosevelt-led ruling class to enact unemployment insurance, welfare, Social Security, the 40-hour week and collective bargaining laws. It was workers’ violent struggle that won these reforms, not voting for Roosevelt.

Unfortunately, the Communist Party got sucked into the “progressive” Roosevelt coalition instead of fighting for workers’ power. The communists did not concentrate on using these reform struggles to win workers to understand that the ruling class still held state power and would use it to reverse these victories. Today, the working class is paying for this reformist error.

The anti-communist liberals and their union lieutenants have helped the bosses water down class consciousness and mass militancy. Today, racism against black, Latin and immigrant workers is rampant, while union-busting and fascist wage-cuts make workers pay for the bosses’ crisis and endless imperialist wars. Meanwhile, too many workers and youth see voting for Obama or Hillary as the answer, instead of waging a mass fight-back.

Illusions die hard, but we in PLP are confident that workers and youth won’t be taking it on the chin forever. We must build a mass base for our communist politics among workers, exposing the racist bosses as the cause of the problem, and their politicians and union servants as part of it. This May Day is an important step in this long road towards fighting for a communist society where workers’ interests, instead of the profits of bankers and bosses, are the only priority.

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