OAKLAND, Calif.—The Occupy Oakland movement reached a new height on Nov. 2 when a “General Strike” drew more than 10,000 working people, students, and trade unionists—the 99%—to downtown. The mobilization grew to upwards of 20,000 as a diverse sea of people marched to the port of Oakland, where the ILWU workers honored their picket line, effectively halting traffic for at least 12 hours at the nation’s fifth largest port.
Organizing for this historic phase of a still nascent mass popular movement began at a 3000-strong General Assembly on Oct. 27, which reasserted the movement’s democratic right to peaceably assemble, only one night after Oakland’s 1% attempted to smash the movement by coordinating a nighttime police raid that violently removed from Oscar Grant Plaza hundreds of peaceful protesters from their tent encampment at the foot of City Hall.
“Tonight, we took back Oscar Grant Plaza!” reported an Occupy activist. “We tried to get to Occupy SF, but the trains would not stop and the police kept us from the freeway! We stand in solidarity! If you lose tonight, we will fight again tomorrow and every night!!
It was as if the San Francisco Bay Area’s 99% had arrived in downtown Oakland on Nov. 2 with this exact sentiment fueling their collective spirit of resistance. They greeted a warm, sunny day with an electric mood, celebratory and militant.
The action wasn’t a general strike in the strict sense, insofar as organized labor did not organize the action and the labor movement throughout the region did not walk off the job, en masse. But it captured a growing global sentiment that the interests of the 1% are absolutely opposed to that of the 99%—and took it to the point of capitalist production.
However limited a one-day and largely symbolic action of a major U.S. port may be, it’s an inspiration to the victims of capitalism; and it’s what the 1% hope to contain, lest the example lead to more militant actions by workers across the country.
Many expressed amazement by this glimpse into the heightened political imagination of millions of Occupiers, from Oakland to Cairo, who are losing or have completely lost faith in corporate politics to solve their problems. The idea of hitching the movement’s hopes to another billion-dollar campaign candidate, though it was certainly lurking, could not find much favor among the crowd in Oakland, composed largely of newly radicalized young people and workers.
In fact, the day’s organizers sent a clear message that both the Democrats and Republicans were one in the same—both are owned and controlled by Wall Street’s billionaire and trillionaire rulers of society—by invoking a principle of the day’s events: no elected official was permitted to speak from the stage.
Highlighting the potential for Occupy to spill over and breath new life into beleaguered struggles was evidenced by the fact that speakers addressed many of the social ills endemic to capitalism: the vastly expanded militarized U.S./Mexico border and mass immigrant deportations, skyrocketing tuition costs, food justice, climate change, city budget cuts (five Oakland schools were shuttered in late Oct.), police brutality, the Prison Industrial Complex, home foreclosures (30,000 Oakland properties are in foreclosure and 10,000 people are without homes), and massive, unemployment amidst one of the deepest economic crises that the system has ever known.
SEIU 1021, which represents some 50,000 government and service workers in Northern California, “encouraged” their membership to attend, hastening to add that due to “no-strike” clauses in their contract, rank and filers should opt to use sick time or get permission from their supervisor to attend. Other unions used similar formulations (five unions and the Alameda County Labor Council endorsed Nov. 2), and none staged a real strike.
In the best tradition of building linkages to struggles nationally and internationally, the motivation for the Nov. 2 mobilization was, in part, in solidarity with the ILWU dockworkers in Longview, Wash.—facing union-busting tactics by port owners, EGT—and striking Argentinean truckers demanding higher fees and better working conditions from the same corporation.
In a clear response to the U.S.-funded military violence against the movement in Egypt, Occupy Oakland marched through downtown on Nov. 22 with a banner reading: “Oakland and Cairo are One Fist.”
Occupy Oakland made an important gesture of solidarity on Nov. 15, by marching to UC Berkeley’s student strike and general assembly, where 5000 assembled to protest the regents’ proposed 81% free hike and to vote on a number of proposals, including to tax the rich to fund education.
Repression by police, defenders of the 1%, has certainly been the most aggressive and violent on the West Coast. Using paramilitary-style tactics, orchestrated with the assistance of the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security, their victims have ranged from Iraq War Veteran Scott Olsen (Occupy Oakland), to a 70-year-old former poet laureate of the United States, Robert Hass (Occupy UC Berkeley). Police have “evicted” Occupiers from three or more sites in Oakland, including the original encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza.
A small layer of Occupiers in Oakland has been accused of a number of acts of destruction (smashing bank windows, setting ablaze dumpsters, spray painting store fronts). At the Nov. 15 Occupy UC GA, speakers were clear that similar tactics had no place in their struggle on campus, insofar as they are undemocratic, extremely atomizing, set up the movement for more police attacks, and tend to alienate many students and working people—not to mention the ranks of organized labor, the essential human material necessary for the movement to advance and more effectively challenge the system as such.
On Nov. 18, the Occupy Oakland General Assembly, in coordination with leaders of ILWU, called a port blockade from Canada to Mexico. This action is being organized “In response to coordinated attacks on the occupations and attacks on workers across the nation. The 1% has disrupted the lives of longshoremen and port truckers and the workers who create their wealth, just as coordinated nationwide police attacks have turned our cities into battlegrounds in an effort to disrupt our Occupy movement.”
The GA was careful to use language in the call that did not imply that this was a “strike” initiated by ILWU, itself. However, this action will be an important measure of the movement as it moves toward its fourth month. All out on Dec. 12! Drop the charges against the 185 jailed Oakland Occupiers!
> The article above was written by Marc Rome, and first appeared in the December 2011 print edition of Socialist Action.