Reprinted from Alternet (November 2, 2011)
By Joshua Holland
Calling the protests a “general strike” resulted in an unbelievable amount of media coverage — a victory for the Occupy Movement.
Perhaps as many as 15,000 people participated in actions across Oakland today, with small marches peeling off to protest in front of banks or “occupy” foreclosed homes. There were probably eight to ten times the number of people in the streets of Oakland today as I’d seen during past OWS actions.
Did a small group of activists manage in just 5 short days of organizing to bring about the first general strike in the United States in generations?
Not exactly. But while there was no broad, city-wide general strike of the sort last seen in this country in 1946, one shouldn’t judge the effort a failure. A day of scattered actions across the city culminated in a massive “occupation” that shut down the Port of Oakland, the fifth busiest container port in the country. When it was announced that operations had been suspended for the night, thousands of people partied around trucks halted in their tracks, celebrating a victory in their struggle with authorities that began with the violent eviction of Occupy Oakland last week. The Oakland police, and Mayor Jean Quan, stung by negative press stemming from the clashes, essentially gave the port to the movement.
Since the Taft-Hartley Act was passed in 1947, unions have been forbidden from participating in general strikes, but there was no doubt that the longshoremen were firmly on the side of the protesters. The occupiers arrived in waves, and at first small groups blocked the entrances to port facilities, letting workers out at the end of their shifts, but preventing their replacements from taking the next shift. One by one, longshoremen arrived to find a picket line blocking their entrance. In every case, they expressed solidarity — honking their horns and in some instances getting out and talking to the protesters, and then pulled a u-turn and went home — their contracts specified that they wouldn’t be required to work if there was a disturbance at the port.
Throughout the day, about half of the businesses in downtown Oakland are shuttered, many with signs expressing solidarity with the occupiers. The city’s economy may not have been brought to a halt, but it was not functioning to full capacity.
Angela Davis gave a rousing speech at 9:30 this morning to kick off the day’s proceedings. A “children’s march” circled Frank Ogawa Plaza – renamed Oscar Grant plaza by the protesters in honor of the young man shot to death by BART police on New Year’s 2009. They chanted “Play Nice and Share!”
A group of high school students told me that their principal had circulated a memo giving them the day off. Calls to the school district to find out today’s attendance figures weren’t returned at press time, but the Los Angeles Times reported that 16 percent of the city’s teachers didn’t show up for work. There were many children and young people in the crowd, many attended by their parents.
Police maintained a minimal presence throughout the day. There were a few scattered acts of vandalism — windows were broken at two banks (I understand that in one case the windows belonged to a neighboring company) but there was no violence, and the protests were remarkably up-beat throughout the day. It stood in marked contrast with the heavy-handed crowd control seen the week before.
Calling this day of protests and direct actions a “general strike” may have raised the bar too high, but it also resulted in an almost unbelievable amount of media coverage – far more attention than protests against the Iraq war attended by hundreds of thousands ever received. In that sense today could be seen as a major victory for the Occupy Movement. This may have provided a model for other occupations to follow in the coming months.
Organizers say they plan on calling for a larger general strike in Oakland in January, presumably with more lead time to organize.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America. Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.