Eyewitness Oakland General Strike

by PSL San Francisco

(Originally published on Liberation News, November 6, 2011)

Around 25,000 people participated in a general strike in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 2, called by the Occupy movement. The strike shut down the Port of Oakland, as well as many businesses throughout the city.

On Oct. 25, the police attacked the Occupy Oakland encampment and nearly killed Scott Olsen, an Iraq war veteran, during a pro-Occupy protest. Since that time, Occupy Oakland has increased in size and militancy.

The Occupiers retook their camp, the San Francisco police were forced to back down from a planned raid of Occupy San Francisco, and a new chant became commonplace throughout the Bay Area Occupations: “This system has got to die! Hella, Hella Occupy!”

When the occupation began on Oct. 10, it was composed of 10 tents. By the time of the raid on Oct. 25, the size of the camp had grown to roughly 100 tents. Since the camp has been reclaimed, it has swelled to 175 tents.

The Occupiers have enjoyed an increase in public support since retaking their camp, which was made clear by the many people from the city bringing donations, and residents hanging signs in their windows that read “We support Occupy Oakland!”

The idea started circulating inside the camp to invite the city’s residents to demonstrate their support by partaking in a one-day, citywide general strike and marching to the Port of Oakland, the fifth busiest port in the United States, to shut down its night shift. The event was widely promoted on Facebook and Twitter.

By morning, thousands of people had gathered around City Hall and Oscar Grant Plaza, the site of the Occupy Oakland camp. Many businesses had to shut down for lack of staffing. Three hundred sixty teachers from the Oakland school district attended the strike.

‘Death to capitalism’

A multinational crowd gathered under huge banners overlooking major intersections that read “Occupy the banks,” “Death to Capitalism” and “Long live the Oakland Commune.”

In a sign that the Occupy movement might be beginning to address issues of gentrification, one of the many marches of the day protested the closings of five Oakland schools, all in oppressed neighborhoods. The march began from Laney Community College and ended at the Board of Education. Members of a primarily African American and Latino contingent spoke about how the school closings would negatively affect their communities.

Three banks in the vicinity of the occupation did not open for the day. A Citibank that did open had its entrance blocked by around 100 protesters.

At 2 p.m., 3,000 participants took off on a “March Against Capitalism” through the downtown area. Teachers, parents, children, college students and other workers of all ages took to the streets. Among those leading the march was an ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) contingent with a banner that read: “Stop the War on Working People!”

ANSWER activists led chants such as, Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” and “We are the 99 percent!” The spirited protesters marched past several banks, including Wells Fargo and the Bank of America. When they passed by the banks, they yelled out, “Close it down!” Visibly absent were the police; yet marchers maintained order and safety as demonstrators were directed back to Oscar Grant Plaza.

Indeed, the police seemed surprisingly absent until the evening. It was later discovered, however, that several undercover police were disguised as “anarchists.” The mainstream press would later report that there were isolated cases of vandalism perpetrated by “anarchists.”

People block port entrances

At 4 and 5 p.m., two different demonstrations, each of roughly 10,000 people, marched to the Port of Oakland. Protesters blocked the entrances with chain link fencing. A contingent of San Francisco State University students, led by Party for Socialism and Liberation member Omar Ali, raised a banner reading “In solidarity with Egypt!”

By 10 p.m., it was announced that the night shift at the port had been canceled. The day shift was not canceled, but had only been partially operational as so many port workers had participated in the strike.

Around 11 p.m., some protesters began occupying the now vacant Travelers Aid building close to the Occupy campsite. The building had previously housed the Travelers Aid Society, a charitable organization that provided shelter for homeless people and those traveling on a low budget and that had been foreclosed upon. The occupiers decided to restore the building to its original purpose and seize it as a shelter. Once inside, the occupiers erected barriers in front of the entrances.

The Oakland police could no longer contain themselves. Occupiers were using a building left vacant by its owners, the banks, for shelter, and this, the enforcers of the 1 percent, could not tolerate. They attacked the building and retook it, arresting around 80 occupiers.

The police also tear-gassed the camp late that night, severely injuring at least one protester. Occupy Oakland was, however, no smaller by sunrise.

Many leading Oakland capitalists have, in the days since the strike, been urging Mayor Jean Quan to destroy the Occupy camp once and for all. They are starting to view the Occupy movement as truly dangerous to their interests. The success of the general strike cost the capitalists of the city and revealed what an effective weapon a mass strike can be against the 1 percent.

Christopher Banks, Anne Gamboni, Paul Greenberg, Forrest Schmidt, and William West contributed to this article.

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2 Responses to Eyewitness Oakland General Strike

  1. What’s up!!! I have been sharing your post with the Occupy Greenville folks!!! Spreading the word. Did you hear about the Sanitation Worker Walkout here in Greenville. The workers felt they weren’t being treated fairly, so they refused to work. THEY WON!!! The city backed down and agreed to talk to the workers!!! It was wonderful!!! People are beginning to awaken!!!

  2. Prole Center says:

    No, I hadn’t heard about that. That’s fantastic! These are exciting times. I really feel like we are about to turn the corner.

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