Protests Then: Union Square

Union Square constantly evolves as a hub for social and political activity. It currently stands as the site for the Weekend Farmer’s Markets, a skateboard haven, and Occupy Wall Street. The Occupy Wall Street Movement is not the brainchild of those belonging to the 99%, a term used by the movement to describe individuals who have to sacrifice necessities to help boost the status of faceless corporations. In fact, Occupy Wall Street was not even created by the recession of 2007. A version of it existed during the 1930’s, after the Great Depression hit. Many of the industries formerly thriving in Manhattan suffered from price-fixing, especially the textile and food industries. President Franklin Roosevelt and other New Dealers believed that “if people earned more, they could buy more, and that would stimulate recovery from the Great Depression” 1.

Protesting at Union Square (Via

Unemployment Riots:
During the Great Depression, unemployment hit the major cities extraordinarily hard. The diminishing wages of the working class were exacerbated by widespread downsizing. The public soon targeted the ones responsible and held rallies and protested the declining job economy caused by monopolies. The high unemployment rate also stirred up pro-Communist sentiment. The middle class during that time felt the effects of overwhelming amount of layoffs. This problem festered and caused men and women alike to fill the unemployment offices and fall into desperation. Many attributed the unemployment, poverty, and suffering to the big companies who controlled the prices and the job economy.

In March 1930, members of the Communist Party organized an unemployment rally in Union Square that escalated into one of the worst riots in the city: “35,000 people attending the demonstration were transformed in a few moments from an orderly, and at times a bored, crowd into a fighting mob.” Communist leaders brought their followers down to march on City Hall and “demand[ed] a hearing from Mayor Walker.” 2 The purpose was to spread awareness about the corrupt and inadequate management of the monopolies who raised the cost of food and rent. To break up the mob, policemen broke out their billy clubs and lashed out at any person within their vicinity, suppressing the demonstrators and wounding two. This rally resulted in the appropriation of one million dollars for relief by the Board of Estimate.3

Unemployment led to poverty and hunger. Cases of mob looting became common. For instance, groups of men often raided chain stores, but the stores refused to alert the authorities to avoid media attentions. On March 20th, 1930, “1,100 men waiting on a Salvation Army bread line in New York City mobbed two trucks delivering baked goods to a nearby hotel” 4.

The food line for the unemployed (via

Unemployment did not decrease either. It remained stagnant throughout the 1930’s. Sidney Hillman stated that during the peak of winter season, about 10 percent of his New York garment workers were contracted for work.

Race Riots

Unemployment stirred up racial tensions. Consequently, African American boys and men were the targets of many crimes. In one notable case, the Scottsboro case, two women accused nine black men of having raped them on a train in Alabama. Initially, a jury found all nine guilty, but the American Communist Party appealed to higher courts and helped reverse the decision.

To call public attention to the Scottsboro case, the American Communist Party held a rally in which a crowd of 50,000 members and supporters gathered to protest at Union Square on Aug. 1, 1932. Almost one-fourth of the protesters were black, and when the authorities unleashed their attack upon the crowds, blacks and white fought together in solidarity to protect the march. The demonstration was part of a national protest against war and the unjust ruling of the Scottsboro Case 5.

Communists protesting at Union Square (via











Today we can see how the protestors have affected us. Their actions have provided citizens today with “Social Security, Medicaid, jobs created by giant public works programs, and the right to unionize.” 6  These victories illustrate the defining resolutions to the Depression of the 1930’s. The riots have not disappeared, they have only evolved. Occupy Wall Street still fights against uneven wage distribution, corruption in the financial system, and unemployment. The movement has gained traction from 20,000 members on November 19th, 2011 to hundreds of millions all over the world.

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  1. Folsom Jr., Burton W. “The NRA: How Price-Fixing Perpetuated the Great Depression.” The Freeman Online. N.p., April 2009. Web. 3 May 2012. <>.
  2. Steven. “Home 1930-1939: The unemployed workers’ movement.” N.p., Dec 27 2009. Web. 3 May 2012. <>.
  3. Damato, Paul. “The Communist Party and Black Liberation in 1930s.” International Socialist Review. ISR, 1997. Web. 3 May 2012. <>.
  4. Cloward, Richard. Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail. Random House Inc., Feb 8, 2012. Web. 3 May 2012.
  5. O.Linder, Douglas. “THE TRIALS OF “THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS” .” Famous American Trials . “The Scottsboro Boys” Trials . 1931 – 1937. umkc, 1999. Web. 3 May 2012. <>.
  6. Holmes, Larry. “What will YOU do about the worst capitalist crisis since the 1930s?.” Workers World. Workers World, Oct 26, 2008. Web. 3 May 2012. <>.