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While the #Occupy Oakland general strike was a fair, peaceful success during daylight hours (I was there in the morning and there was a palpable sense of empowerment and community), by the wee hours of the night, it had degenerated into violence and a very scary replay of the riot scenes we witnessed two weeks ago. But let's be clear: the riot was caused by a very small percentage of demonstrators of the reported ten thousand protesters that marched to the Port of Oakland. In fact, those committed to non-violence were actively trying to stop those breaking windows and vandalizing property.
While the violence at the end somewhat diminishes the importance of the general strike (and let's face it, gives Fox News and all the other right-wing blowhards in the media all sorts of fodder to paint the Occupy movement as violent anarchists), the history of general strikes has a long and powerful history, as my fellow East Bay home girl, Rachel Maddow, points out:
[LABOR HISTORIAN] GIFFORD HARTMAN: The end of November 1946... women at department stores in Oakland, two department stores, Khan's and Hastings, had been on strike for a month. The city elite decided to break the strike. They brought in 400 police who escorted a professional strike-breaking company on December 1, 1946, and they ran through the city. The cops cleared the streets, beat people off the streets, bullied them and broke the strike, but in breaking the strike they catalyzed. Angry street car drivers coming through on December 1, 1946, had seen the strike being broken and refused to go though the picket lines that the cops had assembled around the department stores and really sparked off the general strike. They were joined by other transit operators, bus drivers, and soon the whole city was alive with people just flooding downtown, filling the streets and joining together as what they called a "work holiday." Overall 130,000 people in Oakland stopped work. They went out in solidarity and shut the city down to say that they stood together with the department store clerks at Khan's and Hastings.
[INTERVIEWER] HOLLY KERNAN: And this big mass of people, a quarter of the population of Oakland, what is it that they were asking for?
HARTMAN: They were asking that the rights of the workers at Khan's and Hastings be honored. That they'd be able to have a stable work life which meant a union contract, better wages, and a work situation where they had the rights that had been fought for really in the '30s. It was a continuation of the organizing drives saying that people won't put up with the kind of wages which were non-livable. It was at the time when prices were rising. Things like food was going up 28%; wages were static and people were saying, "We need to kind of fight together to make a better life."
The solidarity worked. The power was in the sheer number of people willing to stop working to fight for a livable wage.
We can do it again. But we must disavow the violence and vandalism.