Today’s the day!
Out on the left coast, the Merry Band of guerrilla pranksters that has been holding the Occupy Oakland party have called for a General Strike. In case you missed it, festival plans can be found here, complete with suggested chants, including our favourite, “Let’s Go Oakland! Let’s Go! (clap clap)”, like a Raiders game against the Oligarchs.
A General Strike! How romantic and exciting! It’s just like being real revolutionaries!
The general strike has been a favoured tool of the left since the 19th century, attempting to gain strength and power from the manipulation of ideological and class sympathies. There are as many varied theories behind the purpose and types of General Strike as there are the “thousand point of darkness” in the fractured universe of leftism, but labour Saint Big Bill Haywood of the IWW (International Workers or the World, also known as the “Wobblies”) described his vision this way in a 1911 speech:
“If I didn’t think that the general strike was leading on to the great revolution which will emancipate the working class I wouldn’t be here. I am with you because I believe that in this little meeting there is a nucleus here that will carry on the work and propagate the seed that will grow into the great revolution that will overthrow the capitalist class.”
The Great Revolution! Mmm, mmm, mmm!
As serendipity would have it, the last time America saw a general strike was in 1946 and it was also in Oakland. At that time, there was a dispute between two downtown Oakland department stores and 425 clerks who were on strike to achieve union recognition. As one participant recalled, very early in the morning of December 3, police were seen “herding a fleet of scab trucks through the downtown area. The trucks contained commodities to fill the shelves of two major department stores whose clerks had long been on strike. The witnesses, that is, truck drivers, bus and streetcar operators and passengers, got off their vehicles and did not return. The city was filled with workers, they milled about the city’s core for several hours and then organised themselves.”
“Before the second day of the strike was half over a large group of war veterans among the strikers formed their own squads and went through close-order drills. They then marched on the Tribune Tower, offices of the anti-labour Oakland Tribune, and from there marched on City Hall demanding the resignation of the mayor and city council.”
How times change.
This time around, Oakland’s Mayor, the honorable Jean Quan is taking a more enlightened and nuanced approach.
On Tuesday, November 1, the Oakland Police Officer’s Association released an “Open Letter to the Citizens of Oakland,” and pointed out that police officers are also part of the “99% fighting for better working conditions, fair treatment and the ability to provide a living for our children and families. We are severely understaffed with many City beats remaining unprotected by police during the day and evening hours. As your police officers, we are confused.”
As well they should be. Last Tuesday, the mayor ordered the police to clear the Occupy Oakland encampments and keep protesters out of the plaza to avoid riots, violence and destruction of property. Not to be denied their place in the pantheon of revolutionary heroes, 12 hours later the mob tried to retake that territory. Police gave the crowd repeated warnings to disperse, and finally fired tear gas and flash grenades to enforce their mandate. Skirmishes between the police and the crowd continued throughout the night, and resulted in over 100 arrests and injuries to both protesters and police.
At the time of the skirmish, Mayor Quan was in Washington on a lobbying trip.
“We’ve been trying (to talk) with the Occupy Oakland people for the last two weeks,” the Mayor told KGO radio. “Last week it was pretty clear that there was escalating violence.”
Despite all this, the next day, in a stroke of executive excellence, Mayor Quan allowed the protesters back in to camp out at the very site the police had cleared the day before.
Best of all, “the Administration issued a memo on Friday, October 28th to all City workers in support of the “Stop Work” strike scheduled for Wednesday, giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off.”
One has to appreciate the glorious, revolutionary progress all this represents. In 1946, the Oakland General Strike began spontaneously to support the efforts of the downtrodden working class clerks to unionize, and identified the Mayor and City Council as enemies of the people. 65 years later, the current Mayor has become a supporter of the mob’s efforts to smash the state.
By the way, the department store clerks whose strike triggered the 1946 General Strike gained absolutely no concessions from the evil capitalists from the three day action, and in a profound example of poor sportsmanship, neither the Mayor nor City Council resigned.
Perhaps Mayor Quan’s fate will be different.
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