OWS Oakland Takes Over City, Shutting Down One of the Biggest Ports in the U.S....But Night Brings More Chaos and Teargas
OWS Oakland Takes Over City, Shutting Down One of the Biggest Ports in the Country...But Nightfall Brings More Chaos and Teargas
By Joshua Holland; November 2, 2011 - AlterNet
As many as 15,000 people participated in actions across Oakland yesterday, 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. Police maintained a minimal presence throughout the day. There were a few scattered acts of vandalism -- windows were broken at two banks but there was no violence, and the protests were remarkably up-beat throughout the day. But that changed when night fell as the streets of Oakland once again resonated with the sharp cracks of tear gas canisters and "less lethal" projectiles being fired, and flash-bang grenades scattering the crowd.
But first: 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, the effort was anything but a failure. A day of scattered actions across the city culminated in a massive "occupation" that shut down the Port of Oakland [see second article below], 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 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 that 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.
Calling the 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 ever garnered by protests against the Iraq war, which were attended by hundreds of thousands. 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.
But at around midnight, the peaceful protests that had marked the day devolved into something uglier. It began when a group of activists "occupied" an abandoned building. Soon after, word spread that police were preparing to evict the squatters. A call went out to defend the site, and about 100-200 people answered it, filling the street a few blocks away where the building was located and erecting a barricade out of whatever was at hand in an effort to prevent police from reaching the scene.
About an hour later, 16 vans filled with police clad in riot gear arrived at an adjacent corner and began to stage. They formed into several lines and prepared to move in (forgive the blurry pictures).
At that point, somebody set the barrier on fire, an order to disperse was given, and for the next 2-3 hours, a series of clashes followed in which numerous rounds of teargas, flash-bangs and non-lethal rounds were fired at protesters.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.
Source: Port of Oakland Running at Half Capacity After Wildcat Strike in Solidarity With Occupy Oakland
By Matt Renner; Wednesday 02 November 2011 - Truthout
Update 1:42 PM Pacific - Despite push-back from union leaders and the management at the Port of Oakland, rank and file longshoremen are adamant that many longshoremen decided not to work today and disrupted work at the Port of Oakland today, in solidarity with the general strike called by the Occupy Oakland protesters.
Richard Washington, a longshoreman who refused work today, told Truthout about his intentions. "This wasn't ordered or suggested by the union leaders, the rank and file workers decided to not work today in support of Occupy Oakland. I am one of the longshoremen who did not take a job. The majority of the longshoremen at the hiring hall this morning decided not to take jobs. For the most part it was longshoremen walking off in solidarity with the general strike," adding "tonight, there will be a picket line and I don't think any longshoremen will cross the picket line."
Update 12:09 PM Pacific - After a very slow start because of an apparent wildcat strike by rank-and-file workers, the Port of Oakland is apparently back up and running, though much slower than normal.
Anthony Leviege, a dockworker at the port says that the port is currently running "between 40 and 50 percent," after a slow start this morning. Leviege said he took to the microphone at the dispatch hall this morning to encourage fellow port workers to take the day off. "I said 'The world is watching Oakland and it's our obligation to be responsible for the people and the city of Oakland,' then I asked them to 'do the right thing,'" implying that workers should take the day off in support of Occupy Oakland's call for a general strike.
Leviege told Truthout that the port is now operational, but running at 40-50 percent capacity because of a continued labor shortage. He said that the dispatchers probably called in other port workers because when he left the dispatch hall, there were still about 50 jobs unfilled, significantly disrupting normal operations at the port.
"This is a success for the rank and file, given how short the time frame was. This partial shutdown was a result of just word of mouth and a leaflet," Leviege added.
9:25 AM Pacific - Jack Heyman, a recently retired business agent for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union local 10, drove through the Port of Oakland and called in the following statement to Truthout at 9:25 AM Pacific time:
"The port of Oakland is effectively shut down. None of the ships are being worked. There is limited trucking activity by non-union workers but the port is effectively shut down. Trucks waiting to pick up containers are backed up over a mile," Heyman said. The truck backup was confirmed by the Oakland Tribune.
According to Heyman, this partial shutdown was initiated by the rank-and-file workers at the port, in solidarity with the call for a general strike by the Occupy Oakland protesters. The union's official position on the strike call was to work in the morning and then join the demonstrations in the evening, but according to Heyman, the rank and file decided to vote with their feet and not fill key jobs at the port this morning.
Craig Merrilees, the spokesman for the Longshore union at the Port of Oakland told the Associated Press that no official strike was called by the union leadership, and no strike can be officially sanctioned by the union under the terms of their contract. He said that several dozen of the over 300 workers did not show up for work although many others did.
"Rank and filers told people this morning not to take work. Key jobs were not filled but some other jobs were," Heyman said, resulting in what he described as an "effective shutdown."
"This is an example of the consciousness of the San Francisco ports union, which has a history of solidarity actions with the global labor movement," Heyman added.
Heyman was in New York City earlier this week, where he announced to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators that the Port of Oakland workers would attempt to shut down the port. The video of this announcement is here:
[Full Disclosure: The author of this piece has been involved in some organizing aspects of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.]