Oakland, Calif. – Unemployed workers gathered July 11 in Oakland to protest cuts in unemployment benefits, demanding their reinstatement and demanding “Jobs or income now!” and “Bail out the people, not Goldman Sachs!” They were part of two newly formed organizations: the Union of Unemployed Workers and the Oakland Assembly of the Unemployed. The workers marched from Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland to the unemployment office, federal building, state building, President Barack Obama’s local campaign headquarters, and finally to a park on 19th and Telegraph, where free food was provided to the unemployed.
The march was instigated by the cut of extended unemployment benefits to over 94,000 Californians at the end of May. California has the third highest unemployment rate in the country, averaging 10.8 percent in the last 3 months. However, because of a formulation which determines the number of weeks’ benefits supplemented by the federal government based on changes in unemployment from the previous year, California and seven other states had federal extensions cut. In other words, because unemployment was officially just as high last year, and not increasing, the federal extensions were reduced!
Gary Hall, an African-American unemployed worker from Concord, and one of the UUW organizers, proclaimed, “If you can’t provide, step aside!” Karen Hancock, unemployed and an OAU organizer, told the rally: “We are demanding an end to the cuts to unemployment immediately. We demand that our government support the people during this economic crisis as generously as they have the banks, the corporations and themselves!”
At the federal building, Dave Welsh, a retired letter carrier, said: “In the 1930s, there were unemployed councils. … When people got kicked out of their apartments, the unemployed councils would move their possessions back in.” Lauren Smith, another OAU organizer, said at Obama’s campaign headquarters: “We have never been able to count on a president to have our interests at heart. We need to stop waiting for some superman president or political party to rescue us and start taking care of each other now.”
The two groups organizing the march have a working relationship despite having somewhat different approaches in their plans going forward. The UUW is signing people up to join a union to press demands on the government and corporations to create jobs and provide a living income to the millions of unemployed.
From the Assembly Points of Unity program: “In our future we aim to create mass mobilizations of the unemployed; taking over utilities to provide free services; garden cooperatives; free housing, food, clothing, transportation, childcare and education; newspapers by and for the people; free community health care; and neighborhood assemblies.”