Skip to content
Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium / University of Washington

Unemployed Protests 1930s

As the Great Depression took hold and unemployment surged in the early 1930s, protests followed. The Communist Party took the lead in organizing actions, launching a subsidiary organization called the Unemployed Councils in 1930. The Socialist Party also organized unemployed protests in New York, Chicago, and a few other cities. Unaffiliated movements emerged in other locations, some like the Unemployed Citizens League of Seattle and movements in Los Angeles and Oakland attracting thousands of members while establishing self-help cooperatives and lobbying for relief funds to help those facing homelessness and hunger. The Communists chose direct action, concentrated on protests of several kinds, including noisy confrontrations with relief agency officials, massive hunger marches, and eviction protests aimed at forestalling the loss of housing. Police closely monitored Unemployed Council demonstrations and arrests and beatings were common.

Here we map, list, and describe more than 700 protests that took place in the years 1930, 1931, and 1932, nearly all of them involving the Communist Party. The descriptions are based on articles that appeared in the Daily Worker, the Communist Party newspaper, and have not been verified. Be skeptical of claimed crowd sizes and other descriptions. And the database is by no means complete. The Daily Worker typically ignored or disparaged actions led by other groups. We will add information on non-communist protests in the future. The maps are hosted by Tableau Public and may take a few seconds to respond. If slow, refresh the page. 

Move between maps and databases by selecting tabs below

Sources: Daily worker.

Research and data compilation: Arianne Hermida and Amanda Miller.

Maps: James Gregory

Additional unemployed movement maps and charts

Click to see map and charts
Mapping Red Chicago: Grassroots Communist Party Activism 1928-1935

Based on her book Red Chicago, Randi Storch reveals the intense geography of CP activism in a short article accompanied by interactive maps and a timeline/database of more than 300 marches, demonstrations, mass meetings, organizational meetings, picnics, dances, and other actions.

Click to see map and charts
Unemployed Citizens League and Poverty Activism in Seattle

Here are maps and detailed accounts of the activities of the Unemployed Citizens League, which claimed more than 10,000 members in Washington State, and the rival Unemployed Councils organized by the Communist Party.