The Oakland General Strike

The following articles are from Battaglia Comunista with an update from Internationalist Notes - US

It was very unusual general strike that occurred on Wednesday, November 2 in Oakland, where thousands of people marched through the city centre for hours and blocked port activities (the city, with about 400,000 inhabitants, is in the heart of San Francisco Bay. It is the fifth biggest U.S. port).

The call for a strike was not in fact due to the initiative of trade unions, but to the Occupy Oakland movement which in the document of the meeting states

The world is tired of the immense disparities of wealth caused by the system in which we live. It is time for people to do something. The general strike in Oakland is a warning shot for the 1% - their wealth only exists because 99% of us create it for them.

The document of the meeting goes on to add

banks and companies should be closed, otherwise we will demonstrate against them.

From the very beginning, the Occupy Oakland movement has been characterized by greater radicalism than in any of the other squares and parks occupations against neoliberalism and government austerity policies that are currently enlivening the United States. In the assembly of October 15 a large majority passed a motion calling on participants to support

strikes by workers which are called by the unions, or are spontaneous in all areas of San Francisco.

The attempt to unite the protest movement in the squares to workers’ struggles has characterized the actions of this movement.

We want to block the activity of the port and also express our solidarity with the struggle of the stevedores of the Port of Longview against the EGT.

For a long time the dockworkers of Oakland have been struggling with the port as the company is laying them off and replacing them with non-unionised labour (during the recent protests workers kidnapped security guards for a few hours and damaged the plant of machinery).

The appeal for mobilisation reads

EGT is an international exporter of grain that is trying to remove dockers’ rights. The company is controlled by an agribusiness multinational which made a 2.4 billion profit in 2010 and has close ties with Wall Street. This is just one example of the attack by Wall Street on workers.


The movement was attempting to seek to unite with the world of work, despite the big trade union federations (for example, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win) who initially tried to boycott the strike, by pointing to contractual clauses, but which, on second thoughts, chose to avoid a head-on confrontation by not clashing with local organisations (especially the dockers and teachers) and came out in favour of the strike move.

Since 1947, the year of approval of the Labor-Management Relations Act, also known as Taft-Hartley Act, strikes that are not related to labour disputes in one firm are illegal in the United States and therefore the union leaders have said that participating in the strike would have meant breaking the contracts they had already signed (legislation which obviously tends to fragment workers’ unity by containing their actions within corporate and single firm issues, thus reducing them to impotence from the political point of view).

The SEIU (the union which brings together the major health care workers, civil servants and other services), being unable to call a strike (because this would have entailed a breach of several contracts, which says a lot about the unions’ real capacity for action, even in the simple economic field), however, has invited its members to take days off or agree with the employer a day of leave without pay (let's hope that this mode of "struggle" is not quickly adopted even by our own unions).

Only the small IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, the historical anarchist union) and Plan10 (local section of the dock workers) have actually joined the strike.

Even members of Occupy Oakland, aware of the risks workers could run (from heavy fines to jail), have put forward widely different possibilities for participation in the initiative, which went from all-out strike, through the request for permission for sick days (a practice used in the first month struggle of Wisconsin) to participation in pickets after work.


Thousands of workers have, in various forms, however, responded to the initiative (the Oakland Tribune talks about the biggest event since 1946, the date of the previous general strike), and the authorities did not take long to make their participation felt. The police, who already had the movement’s tents removed from the centre of Oakland on Oct. 25 after violent clashes (on that occasion the injury of former Marine Oslen Scotto, who emerged unscathed from two missions in Iraq but had his head smashed after an encounter with the local police, scandalised some of the citizenry), was revived in the late evening of the demonstration by engaging in an urban guerrilla war with some hundreds of protesters (it seems the latter wanted to occupy an abandoned building to make it a centre against the crisis and 108 were arrested and 8 injured).

Obviously all the initiatives in this period of crisis, even though with inevitable limitations and contradictions, tend to re-engage the participation of workers in struggle (if they are not completely absorbed within the unions’ reformist logic) can not but arouse the concern of capitalist forces and tend immediately to become public order problems. At the same time,they are an encouraging sign for the puny revolutionary forces and an incentive in the task of finally giving the proletariat its own revolutionary organisation.



The police across the US have been clearing out the Occupy protest camps. The idea behind the Occupy was started in Toronto, Canada, but spread from New York across the world. In Oakland, the General Assembly of the Occupy movement on November 2nd, succeeded in shutting down the Port of Oakland for a time. This attempt to make an appeal to workers to strike was a new step in the movement. It is no surprise that it was the unions that pulled the plug on the General Strike of 1946 that the AFL called off, would today refuse to answer a call to strike. At the same port of Oakland last April 4, 2011 the International Longshore Warehouse Union Local 10 shut down the port in solidarity with state workers in Wisconsin. The protesters assembly in Oakland should have simply addressed the workers themselves in their call for a strike. The Occupy Oakland General Assembly's appeal did succeed in bringing workers to come out on strike despite the refusal of the unions to answer the call. To go out on strike for a political purpose as the Port of Oakland workers did, without the unions and well beyond the solidarity action of last April. This was a unique step forward.

Police Violence

The violence at the protests in Oakland was largely the result of consistent and constant police brutality. For a time a 24 year old Iraq veteran, Scott Olsen was in critical condition from being shot in the head by a police crowd control weapon, maybe a tear gas canister, or probably a rubber bullet. Some black block types smashed store windows, but even this was considerably restrained given the police brutality that had gone on for days. It was Oakland police in January of 2009, that shot and killed the unarmed 22 year old Oscar Grant in the back in public. The previous site of the protests at Frank Ogawa Plaza near Oakland's City Hall, was renamed Oscar Grant Plaza by the protesters. Officer Messerle who pulled the trigger received no prison time at all. At subsequent protests against police brutality afterwards the police apparatus in Oakland repeatedly showed its repressive colors. Now the Occupy protesters encampment has been cleared out of Zuccotti Park but the protests continue. The police actions against the movement nationwide show that the capitalist class understands the implications of the movement quite clearly.

Internationalist Notes


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