US: Strike Action Organized in Oakland to Defend Occupy Movement

Occupiers’ call for a “general strike” finds positive echo in labor movement

Once again, attempts to break up the Occupy movement through police violence has backfired on city authorities. Occupy Oakland’s call for a general strike on 2 November in response to the brutal police attack on 25 October promises to be a major show of strength by organized labor in Oakland. Meanwhile, solidarity demonstrations across the country will help raise consciousness about the role of the police as defenders of big business and the potential power of the working class.

Brutal police repression of Occupy Oakland, including the hospitalization of Iraq War veteran Scott Olson after his skull was fractured by a tear gas canister fired by the police, led to a huge upsurge of the struggle in Oakland. A general assembly in Oakland called for a general strike in response to this severe repression. Its turn to the workers’ movement to find an answer to the brutality of the police and the attempts of the state to crack down on the movement was absolutely correct.

General strike and the unions

This general strike call was taken up by many union activists, and began to get a voice in the labor movement, starting with a Carpenter’s local and then spreading to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). However, the union leadership has not shown the same commitment to take decisive action. Given the weakness of US trade unions at the moment and the role of the pro-capitalist leadership of most of the unions, a simple call of the occupiers in most cases will not be enough to prepare the ground for serious industrial action. A concerted drive by union activists in Oakland would be necessary to shift unions with conservative leaderships into action and prepare the ground to re-develop the trade union movement in the US on the basis of militant and democratic principles.

But, the development of this general strike call in response to this brutal attack by the police on the occupy movement could be a turning point for the whole occupy movement. The police brutality, the huge sympathy for the occupy movement and the inspiration a lot of trade union activists get from it – all of this came together to trigger steps towards industrial action. Workers need to organize committees and caucuses in the workplaces and unions, even calling them workplace ‘General Assemblies’, in order spread this movement into the broader working class.

Protesters at occupy Oakland

The bold call for strike action by Occupy Oakland points the entire occupy movement in the right direction by appealing to the collective power of workers and youth to shut down big business, government institutions, and society as a whole. Nationally coordinated powerful strikes, student walkouts, and other forms of mass direct action that will be necessary to break the power of Wall Street, the corporations, and their two political parties. Even if, as is likely, the strike call in Oakland only draws out a minority of workers and youth, it could spur forward the movement on a national level.

A whole number of unions and labor organizations have endorsed Occupy Oakland’s call for a general strike. However, for the most part the unions have not themselves called strikes. Instead they have encouraged their members to take personal or sick days to join the demonstrations. Substantial student walkouts are planned in high schools and colleges.

Going forward, the unions in particular need to seize the moment. The idea of mass resistance by the 99% against the 1% through building major national actions against the budget cuts, layoffs, and other attempts to make working people pay for the economic crisis is the way to build this movement. In coordination with the occupy movement, community organizations, and left groups, organized labor has an historic opportunity to stop the corporate attacks. The strike call in Oakland should be viewed as an example of what is possible.

Police Repression

Almost everywhere, the occupation movement has faced police interference and intimidation, if not outright violence and repression, and debates about how to respond are widespread. Again and again, where the Occupy movement has stood firm against police repression, making bold appeals for solidarity, victories have been achieved.

In Oakland, where anger at police brutality is especially raw after several high profile police murders, including of Oscar Grant, the movement has forced Democratic mayor, Jean Quan, into a complete policy reversal. After ordering a massive late-night police raid of the encampment in the renamed “Oscar Grant” plaza, using helicopters, rubber bullets, and tear gas, Occupy Oakland re-claimed the initiative by organizing big demonstrations the following day. After the skull of Iraq War veteran Scott Olson was shattered by a police projectile, there was widespread public outrage. Mayor Quan was forced to publicly announce a reduced police presence and allow the occupation to continue.

Police attack ’Occupy Oakland’

Labor Support for Oakland General Strike

Below we list the unions who have published solidarity statements and calls to action in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and their call for strike action and protests on November 2nd. In part to avoid legal repercussions, none of the unions have officially called their members out on strike. Anti-union laws ban political strikes or solidarity strikes. While many on the left believe union leaders must be prepared to defy such anti-union laws, most unions in the Oakland area endorsing this call are not actually organizing a general strike, a necessary step to actually mobilize a real, huge general strike. Instead they are encouraging their members, where possible, to use more limited legal methods such as leaving work and joining the protests.

  • International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10
  • Carpenters Local 713
  • Oakland Education Association
  • The Alameda Central Labor Council
  • Campaign to End the New Jim Crow
  • United Auto Workers 2865
  • Berkeley Federation of Teachers

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November 2011