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Storm Clouds of Depression and War

The cover of the April 1930 Journal showing the devastation of the Depression.

The winter of 1930 was bitter cold. The January IBEW Journal of Electrical Workers and Operators was filled with members’ reports of accumulations of snow from Shreveport, Louisiana, to Sacramento and Los Angeles, California. For the millions of men and women without work, it was especially harsh.

Unemployment, which brought with it suffering and starvation, was a worldwide phenomenon. The April Journal ran a full-page headline, “Plague of Unemployment Sweeps Across the World.” The accompanying article quoted unemployment levels for early 1930 of over a million people in Germany and Great Britain, and in the hundreds of thousands in Italy, Austria and Poland.

In the United States an article in the February 1930 Journal quoted a January 1930 study in Buffalo, New York, showing one worker in 10 able to work was out of a job. Detroit showed 26 percent higher unemployment than the year before. And the American Federation of Labor’s Monthly Survey of Business revealed approximately 20 percent of its affiliates’ union members were out of work. In1930, estimates put the U.S. unemployment total at four million. By 1931 the word depression was freely used to describe the economic and social situation, and all hope of it being a short-lived phenomenon was lost.

Retired Local 667, Pueblo, Colorado, member Allen T. Bright wrote recently about his experiences during the Depression. He said, “There were no jobs in Independence, [ Missouri, in the early ‘30s]....I had relatives in Howard, Kansas....Uncle Ulysses wasn’t too well, so he offered me $1.00 a day.. to do his work. It was as bad there as it had been in Oklahoma....” He drifted from one odd job to another, from Missouri to Oklahoma to Kansas to Colorado. He remembers that time as his “hungry days.”

Breadlines were found in every town and city across the United States. Companies went bankrupt and took with them all hopes of pensions. Workers rallied in front of their statehouses, and thousands marched to Washington. During the First World War, the government had promised servicemen a bonus in pay. In 1932 over 15,000 “Bonus Marchers” went to Washington, D.C., to collect. They set up camp in places they called “Hoovervilles.” Congress adjourned without moving any payments, and President Hoover ordered the war veterans’ tents and shacks destroyed. In clear sight of the Capitol dome, General Douglas MacArthur set fire to the camps.


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1930-1939 Storm Clouds of Depression and War

D.W. Tracy, International President, 1933-1940, 1947-1954

1929 U.S. stock market crashes, plunges Canada and U.S. into the Great Depression; "St. Valentine's Day Massacre" in Chicago; Agricultural Marketing Act (U.S.) aids stability of farm prices; former U.S. Interior Secretary Albert Fall convicted of accepting a bribe in the Teapot Dome oil-reserve-leasing scandal.

1930 World trade cut by rate hikes caused by Hawley-Smoot Tariff (U.S.); Texas and N.O.R. Co. vs. Brotherhood of Railway Clerks upholds Railway Labor Act's prohibition against employer interference or coercion in choosing a bargaining representative; Ellen Church launches new aviation occupation as she becomes first female flight attendant.
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