Popular Radicalism and the Unemployed in Chicago during the Great Depression

Popular Radicalism and the Unemployed in Chicago during the Great Depression

By Chris Wright

The long-term unemployed in the Great Depression were not the mute, passive victims of circumstance we might think. Their collective struggles for survival challenged fundamental institutions of capitalism, and in their successes and failures hold lessons for us today.

PDF, 250 Pages


March 2022

£25.00, $40.00

EPUB, 250 Pages


March 2022

£25.00, $40.00

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About This Book

In a time when mass joblessness and precarious employment are becoming issues of national concern, it is useful to reconsider the experiences of the unemployed in an earlier period of economic hardship, the Great Depression. How did they survive, and how did they fight against inhumane government policies? Americans are often thought to be very conservative and individualistic people, but the collective struggles of the supposedly “meek” and “atomized” unemployed in the 1930s belie that stereotype. 

Focusing on the bellwether city of Chicago, this book reevaluates those struggles, revealing the kernel of political radicalism and class resistance in practices that are usually thought of as apolitical and un-ideological. From communal sharing to “eviction riots,” from Unemployed Councils to the nationwide movement behind the remarkable Workers’ Unemployment Insurance Bill, millions of people fought to end the reign of capitalist values and usher in a new, more socialistic society. While they failed in their maximal goal of abolishing economic insecurity and the disproportionate power of the rich, they did wrest an incipient welfare state from the ruling class. Today, their legacy is their resilience, their resourcefulness, and their proof that the unemployed can organize themselves to renew the struggle for a more just world.


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Author Information

Chris Wright is Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at the City University of New York. He is the author of Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States (2014). His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Dissent, Truthout, and other publications. 


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Table of Contents

Introduction; Chapter 1: Overview; Chapter 2: Hardship; Chapter 3: Coping; Chapter 4: Relief, Part I: “Shelter Men”; Chapter 5: Relief, Part II: Governments, Unions, and Churches; Chapter 6: Collective Action; Conclusion.


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