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The Unemployed Fight Back: An Interview with Frances Fox Piven

The post was originally featured at Organizing Upgrade. Reposted with permission.

By Marc Kagan

On April 23th, 2020, some 26.5 million Americans were unemployed, and the St. Louis Fed has estimated that 47 million people may be unemployed by the end of June, with unemployment reaching 32%. The Congressional Budget Office expects at least a 9% unemployment rate through 2021 and perhaps beyond. Tens of millions more will have exhausted their savings, facing mounting debt, evictions, foreclosures. All this on top of the existing problems of neoliberalism’s economy of precarity. As is usual, the crisis will hit the working poor, people of color, and youth the hardest.

What strategies and tactics can organizers and working people more broadly draw on today, in order to build social and political power in this crisis? Historically, the unemployed have organized themselves into networks of mutual aid in moments of crisis, but also to make transformative political demands, often with direct action as a central tool. Marc Kagan talked to Frances Fox Piven, author of Poor People’s Movements, about past efforts, and current possibilities. Fox Piven is a prolific writer, a long-time practitioner of the unruly, disruptive behavior she so often advocates, and even an effective lobbyist—she is credited with playing a central role in the 1993 “Motor Voter” Act. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.  

Marc Kagan: Tell me about previous efforts of the unemployed and their advocates during economic crises? Are there commonalities that we should be looking to now?

Frances Fox Piven: Of course there are. When large numbers of people are unemployed they become desperate. Just the fact of unemployment and need and starvation is not exactly what drives people to protest, but if they also think that they have some rights that are being violated in this time of disaster, they are very likely to protest. Continue reading The Unemployed Fight Back: An Interview with Frances Fox Piven

New Labor Forum Highlights for May 2020

As the impact of the coronavirus continues to sweep across the country, the long-term failures of capitalism are in stark view. Yet socialism—as both a critique of capitalism and an alternative political and economic system—has until recently remained outside the narrow limits of U.S. electoral politics. Well before the anti-communist fervor of the Cold War, socialist Eugene Victor Debs ran five times for president of the United States, never receiving more than six percent of the vote. Still, this constituted an all-time high for a socialist party candidate. For a hundred years afterward, socialism remained virtually dormant in American politics.

Then the tide began to turn in September 2011. In the wake of the global financial meltdown, Occupy Wall Street protesters massed in Zuccotti Park, and subsequently in other public spaces around the nation and the world, raising a banner for the 99 percent. And then the 2016 Sanders campaign, spurred by the broadening base of anti-corporate sentiment, especially among the young, brought this critique into the realm of American electoral politics. In comparison to the outcome of the Debs candidacy in 1912, the tens of millions who voted for Bernie in the current round of Democratic primaries, show that socialism, or Democratic Socialism, has achieved a measure of influence and reached a number of adherents previously unthinkable. According to a recent Gallup poll, 43 percent of Americans now view “socialism as a good thing for the country”; and fully 61 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 hold a positive view of socialism, with capitalism trailing at 58 percent.

Continue reading New Labor Forum Highlights for May 2020