Debate on the Occupy Oakland General Strike

Yesterday in Oakland, California the Occupy X Movement took a major step when Occupy Oakland called a general strike which shut down the port of Oakland (5th busiest in the US ). The call for the General Strike emerged from the Oakland General Assembly in the aftermath of the police shooting of Scott Olsen on 25th October. The strike could not (for legal reasons) have the formal support of the Oakland unions but we understand that in particular the radical ILWU which organizes the docks had given a ‘nod and a wink’ that if a large protest was at the port gates work would be halted for ‘health & safety’ reasons as had happened during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

In a similar move theSEIU 1021 Executive Board calls on all members of SEIU 1021 to join a day-long “Peaceful Day of Action” in support of Occupy Oakland and against the banking industry and last week’s police brutality against the Occupy Oakland encampment. To avoid misinterpretation: Occupy Oakland has called for a “general strike,” but SEIU 1021 is not asking any members to “go on strike” — that would be a violation of many SEIU 1021 contracts. Instead, we encourage members to use legitimate time off to stand in support of Occupy Oakland and join the day’s events at the “Peaceful Day of Action.”

In the event thousands took to the streets for various actions across Oakland including 3-5000 who marched on the Port closing it. Estimates for the total number taking part run to 35 – 40,000.  Other protesters occupied an abandoned building, after some hours this group was attacked by police with tear gas and ‘flash bang’ grenades. Protesters then set fire to the barricade across the road to protect themselves (fire burns tear gas) and the police attacked with more tear gas, grenades and some other type of ‘less lethal’ projectile.

Three banks were also damaged during the day. Walgreen’s, Burger King and the major banks in downtown Oakland were all reported to be closed.  A Wholefoods that had threatened to fire workers if they struck had its windows broken.  Police claimed 60 people were arrested and at least two were injured but unlike the police attack on Occupy Oakland on 25th October these injuries appear not to be life threatening.

The concept of a General Strike being called by an Occupy Assembly rather than by the unions of the workers who would be striking is unusual. In the two pieces below members of WSM’s sister organisation, Amanecer, in California debate the pros and cons of this call in advance of November 2nd.


On the Occupy Oakland November 2 General Strike
Posted on October 28, 2011 by adamfreedom

In response to the police repression unleashed by Oakland PD in evicting Occupy Oakland from their occupation site, the renamed ‘Oscar Grant Plaza’, on Wednesday, October 26, the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland approved a call for a November 2 General Strike declaring “All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.” Already local officials of the mainstream unions are attempting to push for late afternoon rallying times (to discourage workers from striking as did unions, non-profits and the Catholic Church during the 2006 immigrant protests) and Democratic Party linked groups such as MoveOn.org, Rebuild the Dream, and national union leadership are sharpening their knives in drafting plans to coopt and channel the occupy movement into an electoral and policy agenda as happened in Madison earlier this year.

As the usual suspects look to gut the occupy movement of radical potential at their alters of responsible leadership and trickle down change from above they look to pull the movement backwards. But perhaps as dangerous is the abstention and hesitation of radicals to push this movement forward and blossom in its potential.

For radicals who have been around the proverbial organizing block I would urge caution to avoid falling into the role of being the left naysayers of the movement. Just as under capitalism “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”, in times of upheaval and crisis events that never seemed possible suddenly become so. People who are unpoliticized or only have nascent consciousness become radicalized and people who are already politicized begin to identify with revolutionary politics. The lack of organic connections to more politically defined political militants leaves these newly radicalized layers to flail in the wind and take many political missteps, grow cynical, or be swept into the first organization that seems to offer a ready baked formula for radical change.

The Occupy movement, just like the 2006 immigrant marches which included workplace strikes, the Republic Doors and Windows factory occupation, or the California student protests and building takeovers, if you would have asked most any seasoned radical if any of this was possible, no reasonable estimation would come back affirmative. Would any of us had imagined that a mass meeting of several thousand would take up the question of a general strike and take a vote 1,484 in favor to 46 opposed? I sure wouldn’t have. A week ago only layers of individuals within the anarchist movement, the IWW and an Al-Jazera article were the only voices I heard putting “occupy” and “general strike” into the same sentence. Now the entire occupy movement is looking at and discussing this. That’s a major step forward.

So will a general strike actually materialize next week? Who knows. Almost surely it won’t be a total shut down by any stretch, but it seems like from what I’m hearing that downtown Oakland will be shutdown and outreach groups for several industries have already formed to agitate, flyer and mobilize. But keep in mind the ‘general strikes’ that we hear about in Chile, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, etc are not too different than this – from my understanding only 20-30% of workers participate in the called for stoppages. Let’s also keep in mind that every conversation struck about the possibility of a general strike and leaflet handed out and posted becomes a radical point of reference around the idea of mass collective action and this lays the ground work, it is a great preparation if you will, for larger steps in the future. As revolutionaries let’s not forget the Gramscian adage “Pessimism of the intellect, Optimism of the will.” Its truer now more than ever.

Taken from Machete 408


NOVEMBER 1, 2011
The Role of Left-Wing Naysayers: A Response to “On the Occupy Oakland November 2 General Strike”

There is not going to be a General Strike in Oakland.

Something is going to happen, it’s going to be large, beautiful and inspiring, but it is not going to be a General Strike; and that’s perfectly fine. A. Weaver from Machete408 in his post “On the Occupy Oakland November 2 General Strike” makes the argument that:

For radicals who have been around the proverbial organizing block I would urge caution to avoid falling into the role of being the left naysayers of the movement. Just as under capitalism “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”, in times of upheaval and crisis events that never seemed possible suddenly become so. People who are unpoliticized or only have nascent consciousness become radicalized and people who are already politicized begin to identify with revolutionary politics. The lack of organic connections to more politically defined political militants leaves these newly radicalized layers to flail in the wind and take many political missteps, grow cynical, or be swept into the first organization that seems to offer a ready baked formula for radical change.

There is a tremendous amount of energy in Oakland right now. Walking downtown, you can feel it in the air: The police walks on a different kind of edge, the suits walk scared, the politicos hide their faces from the camera and sneak from the back of City Hall. There is a flurry of activity, from leftists to unionists to community activists are spreading the word about the strike action and engaging people in conversations about our current situation and capitalism. The energy is building up and the word is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Unions are, in different levels, trying to get their people out there or at least symbolically supporting the strike.

Something will happen, it will just not be a General Strike.

It will not be a General Strike because, for many people, the occupy movement still something they experience through the television. There is sense of them over there (people camping out and going to rallies every night) , and us here (people going to work every day and being spectators). The argument that “in times of upheaval and crisis events that never seemed possible suddenly become so” fails to take into account that these times of crisis and upheaval are generally escalations. Although build up has been happening, it has still not broken the barrier of alienation – people are still isolated and terrified of their bosses, people are still disconnected.

The call for a General Strike might have be a hasty one (specially since it only gave one week for preparation and build-up), but it has forced the issue of participation in capitalism and the power of working people to change things to the forefront. It has forces radicals inside the unions the examine the work that they are doing and take a stance – either this is revolutionary work, and my job as a revolutionary is to push my union to participate on this, regardless of bureaucracy, or being in the union is just my day job and that’s the end of that. It has forced the union to take a stance in supporting the action or be deemed irrelevant. It has shattered the confidence of many people in the electoral route for change, and it has instilled in people the confidence that they can do things for themselves.

It must however, be more expansive. The General Strike is an action of sharp contrasts: you either strike or you scab. That sharp contrast is good and crucial – but at the level that Oakland is right now, it is paramount that other venues open for people to participate. We must broaden the base of people who participate in the Occupy movement, and use this event as a spark to generate even more organizing and agitation outside Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza. Hearing from a comrade that she was one-upped by a neighbor in door knocking in her street is one of those signs that the sentiment and energy is seeping through the cracks and building up. This is what we need. This is what we should be doing, and what many are doing.

It is really not productive to get caught fantasizing about a anarcho-syndicalist general strike and be tied to the exclusive project of stopping production. It is a lot more relevant and revolutionary to try and break people from the patterns of alienation, even if just a bit more, and have them engage in mass action, be strike mass action or not.

All that being said, I can only ask one thing of my beloved adopted town – prove me wrong, and shut down the town!

Taken from The Left-Winger

 

http://www.wsm.ie/occupy-x

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