On September 1, 2020, the organizations Pittsburgh Restaurant Worker’s Aid and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United held called for “Emergency Day of Action: “Don’t Starve, Fight!” in front of Senator Pat Toomey’s office. The following speech was given by Kaity Baril, a representative of The Pittsburgh Unemployed Council, who was invited to speak on the loss of the $600 enhancement to unemployment compensation. The Pittsburgh Unemployed Council is an initiative of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
When we are discussing workers’ rights, unemployment compensation is absolutely a worker’s right. The Pittsburgh Unemployed Council is an organization of unemployed, underemployed, and employed workers modeled after the Unemployed Councils in the 1930s and 80s. Our guiding principle is that no member of the working class or their family should go without adequate food, housing, or healthcare regardless of their employment or immigration status.
So, let’s delve into basic human needs. To be sustained, we need shelter, food, and water. In order to accomplish this, you need capital or money, in our society, right? If we aren’t working or shouldn’t be working, we need financial aid.
Who is affected by the $600 Unemployment Compensation cut?
Of course every worker is affected by COVID, but Black, Brown, Indigenous, and people of color are particularly affected by this global crisis, not to mention oppressions upon folks based on their nationality, ability, gender, sexuality, and other parts of who they are. We must show unity and respond to every instance of discrimination and fight in the interests of those of us who are most frequently subjected to special abuse and oppression.
According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, the living wage is $15.35 per hour for a household in the county with two working adults and two children. According to the calculator, each adult must make about $31,900 annually to afford typical expenses such as housing and transportation. But a 2018 analysis by the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that Allegheny County residents need to earn at least $17 per hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Folks were struggling before the pandemic. This is not new; these are all pre-existing conditions that are exaggerated by a health crisis. So, we need that $600 now more than ever. If we didn’t have money before this, why would we when we aren’t working?
Before I was furloughed from my position at a non-profit, the highest wage I have ever made is $14.42 an hour. I’ve been in the work force for 15 years, and that was barely enough to keep me afloat. Now, imagine you make less than $10,000 a year, a rate of poverty that is nearly four times that of the general population – 15 percent of transgender folks reported this.
Why do we need benefits?
We are already under the thumb of the wealthy, as it is. During a global health crisis, we’re being forced to submit to sub-par working conditions due to withheld unemployment compensation, insufficient funds to pay bills, and/or ineligibility.
Unemployment is soaring and evictions are looming. From March until August 16, the total number of initial unemployment claims is over 2 million in Pennsylvania. In April, we were the leading nation in unemployment claims.
So, then we all know we can’t pay for our housing, utilities, food, healthcare, or basic human needs if we don’t have incoming funds. Yet, our lives are valued lower, and profiteering is the priority. Therefore, we don’t get that $600, and we are left with scraps. This is unacceptable. Workers run the economy, so why are they being sacrificed? We are human beings, and we are not disposable.
What are our demands?
One of our ten demands as PUC is full unemployment compensation for all members of working class regardless of immigration status; no cancellation of benefits if workers refuse to return to employers who fail to provide a safe work environment, including Personal Protective Equipment. We demand good paying jobs, housing, health care and education for all. While we fight for immediately realizable reforms to provide relief for workers, we also fight for a society where the working class owns the fruits of their own labor for the benefit of all instead of a tiny minority of bosses, bankers and landlords.
It is unacceptable to deny human beings life-saving funds. We won’t give up, and we won’t back down. We’re organizing and strategizing to protect each other. PRWA is an example of a program built from the people for the people. The Unemployed Council is built by the people for the people. Therefore, we simply will not be defeated, because there’s more power in collectivity.
There is more power in our unwavering voices. There is more power in our intentional steps. There is more power in all of us. So, together, we demand the $600 in unemployment compensation be reinstated immediately.