Why Unemployment Day?

Why Unemployment Day?

Chicago’s first Unemployment Day will be held on Saturday, October 3rd, at 1 PM in Union Park. Before the event, we thought it would be helpful to provide some background on where this day comes from and what we hope to achieve.


Over the past few years, the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores (Socialist Workers Movement) in Puerto Rico has been calling for “Unemployment Day” marches on Labor Day. The goal has been to draw attention to the way that both the US colonizers and Puerto Rican ruling classes have destroyed the Puerto Rican economy to the point that celebrating a “Labor Day”–a holiday imposed by the colonizing power–is incongruent with the high levels of unemployment, underemployment, and poverty that the masses suffer. Unemployment Day has become a way for workers to take back the holiday and reshape it to match real life.

Chicago Boricua Resistance (CBR), raised the idea of teaming up with Chicago DSA to host an Unemployment Day in Chicago while we were still in the midst of quarantine. CBR figured that Unemployment Day would capture the imagination of the masses, especially since the US government has deliberately resisted providing any relief outside of the single $1,200 payment. The idea presented a lot of opportunities that we were excited to seize but we want to focus on the two that are most immediate as we approach the 2020 election and its explosive social unrest:

  • Demand relief from COVID and the economy.
  • Make collaborative actions the norm.

Demand Relief

Since the start of the pandemic, the only relief most of us received from the government was $1,200. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provisions only lasted until the end of summer and, as many of these emergency programs expire, thousands more workers are being furloughed and filing for unemployment.

As we head into winter, the prospects for the working class are bleak. Without stable access to income or a real social safety net, essential needs such as housing, healthcare, and access to food become day-to-day preoccupations for many. This abandonment of the masses has forced individuals to find each other and begin building mutual aid networks. The explosion of these networks has been inspiring and is a concrete demonstration of the solidarity that so many people instinctively want to act on. But it has also been frustrating: the financial aid, food pantry, mask sewing, and other services that mutual aid has been handling should be services provided by the government.

In the absence of a government safety net, we’ve been building our own. But we shouldn’t have to. Frankly, the mutual aid groups simply don’t have the resources to meet the scale of need. Unemployment Day provides an opportunity for the mutual aid groups, and the organizations of the Left, to publicly raise their demands. Organizations that helped plan and build Unemployment Day are encouraged to bring whatever posters, chants, banners, etc. to see this crisis through their own lens and demand the social safety net we deserve.

In Chicago, we haven’t had many opportunities to rally for a holistic approach to the crisis. Unemployment Day gives us the opportunity to break down the silos of organizations and demands. For example, there was an amazing weeklong Occupation to Stop the Eviction Avalanche. We also had the historic uprising for Black Lives and to #DefundCPD. It is time that we bring all these demands together and demonstrate that money hoarded by the police and prisons should be turned over to fund mortgage and rent freezes, for example.

Normalizing Collaboration

The pandemic heightened the pre-existing tensions and contradictions of US capitalism. The most explosive tension revolved around racist police and their murderous impunity. This set off the June uprising that lasted through August. The uprising was massive, multi-racial, and fearless. Especially in June, people took to the streets and protested, risking Covid-19 infection and police violence. The masses made themselves seen and heard.

These mass mobilizations, organic and spontaneous in nature, led to a nationwide shift in consciousness, public discourse on police abolition, and even several concrete victories such as the taking down of racist monuments and symbols in our city. Collectively, we’ve created a historic and meaningful moment, but how can we sustain it and continue to grow it as a movement?  

The uprising’s organizing model relied mostly on maintaining momentum while responding and reacting in a timely manner to a constantly shifting and hostile social and political environment. Individual organizations, and sometimes even individuals, planned actions and then retroactively asked for endorsements and support from others. Actions remained large for several weeks because the anger was real and the need for action was evident but they have since consistently dwindled in size. This is, in part, because we are collectively exhausted. Our racist government, its repressive forces, and the racist individuals it emboldens continue to kill and attack us every day. It’s hard to constantly react while we tend to our wounds. How then can we not only react decisively but also organize proactively and win the large gains we need to survive and create the World we seek?

For Unemployment Day, we wanted to build upon the tradition of collaborative action on the basis of solidarity and shared struggle. The Black Abolitionist Network began this conversation in Chicago this summer by hosting events to train people from a wide range of organizations on Abolitionist politics and organizing techniques. They focused on improving decentralized organizing and action. Similarly, we believe that, instead of individual groups planning individual actions, groups should come together to build collaboratively. That way, actions can grow in size and improve in coordination. Additionally, an increased collaboration between orgs will facilitate safer direct actions, inspire and respond to public opinion in a strategic way, and aid in further movement and organization building.

Marching Forward

We know that one action isn’t going to be enough to achieve perfect harmony between every organization but we hope it will get the ball rolling in that direction. We also hope that the organizers who participated in building Unemployment Day can walk away with a greater sense of trust with other groups to make future collaboration even easier.

In the event of another uprising or social unrest following the 2020 election, we’ll need to have coordinated responses. Sporadic protests won’t be enough. Especially as we’ve seen the growth and mobilization of armed fascists. Ideally, the experience of organizing together for Unemployment Day can lay the groundwork for the trust needed to build a concerted, working class, anti-capitalist movement which will be anti-racist, feminist, queer, trans, Black, Brown, Indigenous, environmentalist, and future-minded. And that type of movement is vital if we want to challenge this country’s growing fascism and build a future in which our lives are not defined by the value of our labor but by the content of our contributions to the betterment of humanity and the planet.


Miguel Alvelo is a founding member and current co-chair of Chicago Boricua Resistance. Ken Barrios is a revolutionary socialist and member of the CDSA executive committee.