Occupy Oakland and Workers Back Off Plan to Shut Down the Golden Gate Bridge for May Day
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In San Francisco, Service Employees International Union workers from several different locals, including janitors, retail workers, librarians and others, plan to occupy city hall on Monday and Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. “until they kick [them] out.”
But the Bay Area action that has received the most buzz in the run-up to May 1 has been stepped back significantly in recent days, without much explanation. A coalition of 14 unions representing more than 380 workers at the Golden Gate Bridge District's ferries and buses, who have been without a contract since July 1, 2011, is planning for a May 1 rally and shutdown of the district's services if unions vote to strike. "We're expecting hundreds of participants from community groups all over the Bay Area helping the coalition out on May Day," said Alex Tonisson, an organizer with the bridge labor coalition and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21. The North Bay and San Francisco labor councils have granted strike sanctions to the coalition, but strike votes are still ongoing.
The Golden Gate Bridge labor coalition reached out to Occupy Oakland for support in shutting down the bridge weeks ago, in part because of the group’s experience in blockading the Port of Oakland. There was initial excitement about the bridge action. "It's an international icon. It would be so wonderful to start the day with this beautiful, nonviolent direct action," said Lauren Smith, an organizer with Occupy Oakland's labor solidarity committee, which grew out of the West Coast Port Shutdown organizing group and has since provided support for labor struggles around the Bay Area. But, Smith was careful to point out, Occupy activists cannot take the place of striking workers on their own picket lines, and will only support the action if the workers themselves do.
"We have to avoid situations where we can be used as a bargaining chip either inadvertently or on purpose," said Smith. "Our first responsibility is to protect our people. Only slightly second to that is protecting the integrity of the movement."
Since initial excitement around a potential bridge blockade, plans have been scaled back significantly. Early Saturday, the labor coalition announced that their May Day plans would include a hard picket to shut down the ferry services, but keep the bridge open. “We ask supporters to stand with us at strike picket lines on May Day, and to keep the bridge open,” said Tonisson.
It remains to be seen how Occupy Oakland might figure into the new plan, which stands to make the embattled bridge district more money, as the bridge tolls actually offset the cost of running the more expensive ferries. Some of those who initially helped to organize the bridge shutdown are now calling for Occupy Oakland support to stay in Oakland.
"The wisdom of taking a step back to reassess is something we're developing," said Smith. "It shows a maturing of the group."
While actions are planned all over the region, much of the May Day attention is focused on that group and its reputation for rough tactics. Many Oakland organizers plan to stay in the East Bay on May Day morning and keep the emphasis on non-unionized and undocumented worker struggles. "There are tons of worker struggles in Oakland," said Smith. "It's such a working class town, with so many people that are hard living."
To this end, organizers with the Precarious and Service Workers assembly are attempting to organize those who "don't comply with the traditional definition of labor" in a new kind of solidarity network.
"We're organizing outside the union form. We're not interested in leadership," said one organizer, who declined to give their name. "We aren't trying to replicate that model, because we don't just want better pay, but totally different lives." Workers from across the Bay Area come together to "share their struggles" in regular meetings that will continue after May Day.