Occupy Oakland and Workers Back Off Plan to Shut Down the Golden Gate Bridge for May Day
May Day protest actions are planned across the region, state and nation, but many eyes are on the flashpoint of Occupy Oakland, where organizers say "traditional labor and precarious workers will strike together for the first time" at Occupy's call.
"It's an interesting convergence of unorganized labor and the Occupy movement creating this pressure and momentum that encourages the rank and file to plan strikes on this day," said Steven Angell, an organizer with Occupy Oakland. "I've heard unions say that they haven't celebrated May Day in a very long time, or most of the rank and file doesn't even know what it is. And now they're having work stoppages and meetings and walk-outs and pickets and all sorts of actions."
From an early morning at the Golden Gate Bridge to a late afternoon on the streets of Oakland, May 1 in California's Bay Area is shaping up to be more of a Workers' Day than it has in decades. Organized labor plans to mark the day with strikes and walk-outs across the region while Occupy activists, who called for a mass general strike many weeks ago, are attempting to rally support for the more than 80 percent of California's wage and salary workers who do not belong to unions -- all while avoiding potential law enforcement crackdowns.
At the same time, Occupy and organized labor are still figuring out how best to work together, and there have been a few potholes in the road to May Day in the Bay.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17.1 percent of workers in California belong to a union. The national rate is even lower, at 11.8 percent. "Let's not just talk about organized labor," said Clarence Thomas, an International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 member for 26 years and a Port of Oakland worker. "The overwhelming majority of working people in this country do not belong to a union and the prospects of being able to join one are very dim. Now is the time to remember our militant labor history because historically labor has played a very leading role in the fight for social justice."
Thomas was speaking at the downtown triangle where Oakland's 1946 general strike commenced -- the last general strike in the U.S. before Occupy Oakland's November 2 event, which drew tens of thousands to the streets and shut down the city's port for several hours, but was not truly a “general strike” in the sense of vast labor support. Compared to 1946, it was more like a mass protest.
Union membership as a percent of employed workers peaked eight years after that '46 strike, in 1954 at 28.3%. The vision of a general strike as it existed in the first half of the 20th century revolved around organized labor supporting one another and burgeoning attempts by other worker groups to unionize. Today, the vast "precariat" of non-unionized labor presents both challenges and opportunities for the action.
While some unions are being coy about their May 1 plans, others have come out in support of work stoppage, including some who have no ongoing negotiations or grievances with their employers -- exactly the kind of labor a general strike is meant to halt.
Occupy activists will not be helping to shut down the port this time around, because they don't have to. ILWU Local 10 rank and file workers there have stated they will not be working on the eight-hour May 1 day shift, putting port operations on hold until the evening.
Up to 4,500 California Nurses Association registered nurses at Sutter hospitals in Berkeley, Oakland and six other Bay Area cities will strike on May 1 in response to what they call "greed and misplaced priorities" on the part of Sutter Health, who are raising executive salaries while cutting services. "We'll be some of the many people having a strike that day," said CNA nurse Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto. Following the one-day strike, Pardue-Okimoto said, Alta Bates Summit hospital in Oakland will lock the nurses out for five days. The California Nurses Association has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. "We believe this is a punitive action against the nurses."