from I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked by Upton Sinclair
(12-13) It is easy to imagine the unemployed of California in a system of production for use because of the efforts which they have made to establish such a system for themselves. All over the State self-help and barter groups have sprung up. There have been literally hundreds of them, and for a year or two I had been hearing stories of their achievements. In Compton, an industrial town south of Los Angeles, they served 19,745 meals at a total money cost of less than one-half cent a meal [in 1934 or $0.08 in 2009 dollars]. My friend, Hjalmar Rutzebeck, author of "Alaska Man's Luck," was active in the UXA (Unemployed Exchange Association) of Oakland, and told me marvelous tales about the complicated procedure whereby a group of several thousand hungry men would manage to make something out of nothing. They would find a farmer with a crop of peaches rotting on the trees, and who needed to have his barn painted. They would find a paint merchant who would accept some canned peaches in return for paint. Some of these operations were extremely complicated, involving an elaborate circle of activities with a dozen different participants.
End Poverty in California [EPIC] was the platform of Upton Sinclair's campaign for the Governorship of California in 1934. Sinclair had won the nomination of the Democratic Party although he had been a member of the Socialist Party for decades. He got no support from the national party, the conservative Democrats helped field a third party candidate, and FDR avoided him like the plague.
Sinclair was also a writer and novelist, the author most famously of The Jungle, the book that made the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act and, eventually, the Food and Drug Administration possible. Naturally, he wrote a book about his experiences on the campaign trail.
I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked by Upton Sinclair
Berkeley, CA: University of CA Press, 1934, 1935
One would have expected such efforts at self-support to be welcomed by the entire community. The cooperatives of Los Angeles county maintained 150,000 members for five months on a cash expenditure by the Government of only seventeen cents per family per month [$2.70]. Since a family is found to average 3.6 persons, this was less than one-sixth of a cent per person per day [$.03]. Here was Los Angeles county drifting into bankruptcy; here was the board of supervisors being besieged one day by hungry men demanding doles, and the next day by taxpayers clamoring against further taxes. For persons on the dole who did not belong to cooperatives the State of California was paying out in one way and another forty-five cents per person per day [$7.14], or 270 times as much as the cooperatives were costing. One would have expected that everybody in the county would hail the cooperatives as the most progressive, the most American, the most helpful of all the developments of these depression years.cross-posted to bluemassgroup.com, greenmassgroup.com, and eurotrib.com
But it was not so. The cooperatives were handicapped and hamstrung in a hundred different ways. Their funds were cut off, their leaders were bribed, they were broken by dissentions deliberately fostered.
A story was told to me by one of the leading society ladies of Los Angeles. a self-help group had got hold of some old baking machinery and got it to working and were turning out several thousand loaves of bread per day. Another group had got some land and grown some vegetables. They had an old truck and were exchanging bread for vegetables; but the bakery concerns objected to the bartering of bread, and the produce concerns objected to the bartering of vegetables, and the politicians forced the relief workers to cut off the gasoline supply of the truck, and so the operation was brought to an end.
This is how it is in our blind, anarchic society. When the State gives money to the unemployed and they spend it for bread in a store, that amounts to a subsidy for the stores; and in their greed for that subsidy the store-owners are willing to see the taxpayers driven out of their homes and the State driven into bankruptcy.
Even relief itself has become a racket. As I write, Senator Borah tells the American people that of the money which the Government gives for relief of the unemployed not more than one-half actually reaches the unemployed. The rest goes to the politicians along the line. In Democratic States it goes to build up a Democratic machine and in Republican States it goes to build up a Republican machine. California has been a Republican State for forty years and remains so, and the relief money serves to build up a machine of President Roosevelt's enemies and to bring the New Deal to futility.