It’s not clear how the general strike called by the Occupy Oakland general assembly for Wednesday, November 2, will fare. The protesters passed the resolution in the haze of the brutal crackdown last week on their encampment, where police used rubber bullets, flash grenades and other projectiles (the protesters are now back in the public plaza from which they were removed). They did not consult with local unions, who could give the general strike some muscle. Organizers only met with union leaders after the declaration of the general strike. And initially, union leaders were wary of participating.
“It’s virtually impossible for any union to endorse a work-stoppage because all contracts have no-strike clauses, which unions are bound to honor. However most of the unions on the west coast, including ILWU, have been involved in supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement in their local communities,” ILWU communications director Craig Merrilees said.
Separately, Peralta Fedration of Teachers labor representative Sara Connors said that while that union did have a process by which to call for a strike, it involved a union-wide vote that the organization’s leadership had not as yet scheduled. “We’re going to do what we can to have members there participating. We didn’t call a strike vote, but we’re participating in the day of action,” she said. The plan for Thursday’s action includes three separate assemblies — at 9 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. — to be held in downtown Oakland. Unions have encouraged their members to attend when they can, but not to skip work.
But while unions may not be able to authorize an official strike action, they can find ways to join the effort. Indeed, longshore workers in Oakland endorsed the call for a general strike late last week, planning to shut down ports in the Bay Area. And among nonunion workers, the concept of the general strike in Oakland is gaining traction. The organizers have set lofty goals:
Occupy Oakland demonstrators expect tens of thousands of people to participate in a general strike Wednesday in the California city, an organizer said.
Flyers announcing the strike said “all banks and corporations must close down for the day or we will march on them.” The flyers called for solidarity with the global Occupy movement, an end to police aggression and pledged support for local schools and libraries.
Organizer Tim Simons said organized labor plans to participate.
General strikes have a long history in Oakland. In 1946, unions in Oakland participated in a “work holiday” in sympathy with a work stoppage at a local department store. That general strike lasted three days with 100,000 workers walking off the job, until a compromise agreement was reached. And then the energy from the general strike transferred into political action. The Oakland Voters League, a populist political party, seated four out of five labor candidates on the city council in the next elections.
Since that time, anti-union laws and low union density make pulling off a general strike difficult. But ILWU has shut down ports for various actions, so that could bring economic activity in the Bay Area to a crawl. It will be interesting to see how successful Occupy Oakland is in one of the most ambitious actions from the OWS movement outside of holding a physical space.