Occupy Oakland Attempts to Shut Down City with America's First General Strike in 65 Years
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At Occupy Oakland's October 27 General Assembly, activists still sore and weary from a night of brutal police crackdowns (but also energized after re-taking the plaza from which they'd been violently evicted 36 hours before) considered whether to attempt to organize the first general strike in this country in 65 years.
It would be an extremely tall order. But today, they might just pull off a feat that appeared all but impossible just a few short days ago.
At the General Assembly, activists debated whether to move quickly, capitalizing on the attention the previous day's police actions had brought to their cause, or give themselves more time to organize. "I support a general strike right now to take advantage of this momentum,” said one speaker excitedly at the “people's mic” that evening. “We should strike while the iron's hot!" The sentiment was greeted by raucous applause, and the resolution passed shortly afterward.
Wednesday, November 2, was the date chosen. The strike, said activist Louise Michel at an October 31 press conference, was spurred “by a need to end police attacks on our communities, to defend our schools and libraries against closures, and against this economic system.” The occupiers, Michel continued, called for “a day of action in which the circulation of capital is blockaded, students walk out of their schools and people stage various occupations” around the city. The activists vowed to protest any businesses that keep their doors open during the strike.
They also planned to shut down the Port of Oakland, the fifth busiest container port in the United States and the scene of violent clashes between labor activists and police during the 2003 anti-war protests.
With only five short days to organize a city-wide action, the logistics appeared daunting. Since the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, unions have been legally barred from officially participating in strikes “in support of other workers” – general strikes have been effectively illegal since then. (Interestingly, the last general strike in the U.S. occurred in Oakland, California, in 1946. Its epicenter, on the corner of Broadway and Telegraph, was just blocks away from Occupy Oakland's current “camp” in front of City Hall.)
But in those five days, an enormous amount of momentum has built up behind the action. SEIU, UAW, the Alameda Labor Council – an umbrella group representing over 100 local unions – and several other locals, including two area teachers' unions, endorsed the strike, coming as close to officially participating in the event as legally possible.
According to the Oakland Police Officers' Association, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan “issued a memo on Friday, October 28th to all City workers in support of the 'Stop Work' strike scheduled for Wednesday, giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off.” All Oakland police officers, on the other hand, have been ordered to work today – vacations and days off have been canceled.
Occupations in cities around the country are staging various “solidarity events” with today's march, and are also helping spread the word within their own networks. The whole world, it seems, will be watching to see if a relatively small group of dedicated activists can pull off a difficult feat and bring the economy of California's eighth largest city to a grinding halt.
If they do, it will represent a dramatic escalation of the Occupy Movement's tactics to date. A general strike is the most potent shot that can be fired across the bow of “the 1 percent.”
A success today will provide a unique opportunity to drive home the movement's message. In the age-old struggle between labor and capital, the latter has clearly won – we now have the highest share of the nation's income going to corporate profits and the lowest share to working people's wages since the Great Depression. The right claims, with endless repetition, that the richest Americans are “wealth creators.” By abstaining from work – and from shopping – the working people of Oakland have an opportunity to prove that capital without labor produces nothing at all.