From early afternoon June 24 into the morning of June 25, a sit-in was staged outside the Georgia Department of Labor. Protesters demanded the Georgia state government retain, not slash, the $300 per week federal unemployment benefits that were extended under the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act during the pandemic. Over 223,000 people in Georgia will lose the federal benefits.
The supplemental benefits were slated to end Sept. 6, but 22 states across the country decided to end the benefits in June. Over 15 million working-class people across the country rely on unemployment insurance benefits to survive week to week. For millions of unemployed people and their families, these benefits are the difference between having housing and facing eviction.
Georgia officials ended these crucial benefits June 26. This attack on the working class was met with outrage and resistance. Organizations like the New Georgia Project, North Georgia Labor Council, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation came together to organize a sit-in protest that was joined by individuals facing UI cuts. The week prior, on June 18, the PSL organized a protest outside the Georgia Chamber of Commerce demanding the state stop the cuts.
“This is a fight for economic justice,” said Nicole, organizer with the New Georgia Project, to Liberation News. She added that re-approval letters for the federal benefits were sent out to thousands of people in Georgia just weeks prior. At least half of the people currently receiving the federal benefits will not be aware that the federal benefits were ended until after the fact. GDOL did not bother sending out another letter to retract their original statement.
Sleeping bags and tents lined the entrance of the GDOL. Protesters held signs that read “Hands Off Unemployment Benefits” and “Stop the War on the Poor.” Chants such as “Give the people what they need, unemployment and childcare guaranteed,” and “Bail out the people, not the banks!” resounded on the block.
Many states have ended COVID-19 restrictions and are returning to business as usual despite less than half of the population being fully vaccinated. Employers pay workers poverty wages with little to no benefits and subject workers to inadequate hours in unsafe working conditions. These same employers complain of a “labor shortage,” as workers refuse to put themselves at risk for unlivable wages.
Serving the interests of corporations and business associations, state governments like Georgia’s are prematurely ending federal benefits — further worsening the crisis for the working class. Unemployment benefits are already dreadfully low. For many, the federal supplement was often the bulk of the benefits.
Inefficient bureaucracy, unreasonable eligibility criteria and technical difficulties have also made it impossible for millions in dire need to get their unemployment benefits. Technological illiteracy and barriers to access compounded with understaffing and underfunding of unemployment offices have left many in the dust.
Even for those who make it past the arduous process of claims and appeals — their unemployment benefits dry up in no time. Undocumented workers, those with a criminal record preventing them from gaining employment and the millions of people facing chronic unemployment are completely left out of the process.
Liberation News spoke with Camille Taylor, an unemployed worker, at the sit-in. Taylor was laid off her job in December 2020. She has yet to receive even a dime of the benefits owed to her, despite being approved for benefits. After calling the GDOL over 100 times in a single day, she was able to secure a scheduled phone call with a GDOL representative seven months into the ordeal. During this period, her car was repossessed and she was served an eviction notice.
Protesters who stayed overnight and carried on the sit-in occupation condemned poverty wages. The federal minimum wage — also Georgia’s minimum wage — has not been raised in over a decade. Politicians and the stakeholders in the Georgia Chamber of Commerce are herding workers into low-wage service sector jobs.
Lauren Crace, who helped organize and attended the sit-in, spoke into the mic at one of several rallies that Liberation News covered. “Can Governor Kemp and Mark Butler [Georgia Labor Commissioner] survive on $7.25 an hour?” she asked. Outraged, she added: “If I get a McDonald’s job that pays $11 per hour for unstable hours per week, then who is going to pay my mortgage? My car payments? My child’s daycare? Give me a break! These officials don’t respect working people.”
Crace teared up as she concluded her talk with, “I shouldn’t have to eat the leftovers on my child’s plate so we can stretch the groceries as a family.”
The capitalist ruling class makes life-changing decisions for millions of workers while workers who make society run have no say at all. Insidiously, it labels the unemployed receiving UI as freeloaders and burdens on society — even though workers collectively pay into UI throughout their lives. Meanwhile, the banks, the corporations, and Wall Street are bailed out with trillions in public funds every economic cycle. It is abundantly clear who the real freeloaders in this system are.
Protesters at the sit-in affirmed the right of all working-class people to unemployment insurance and vowed to continue to struggle against those on the offensive against workers’ rights. Only a united movement of the employed and the unemployed — all of whom belong to the working class — can secure victory.