By Isaac Steiner (Solidarity USA)
On 2 November, tens of thousands of people responded to a call for a “general strike” from the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland in California. Tens of thousands of protesters marched on the city’ s port, forming flying pickets which were respected by members of the International Longshore Workers’ Union (ILWU), some using a contractual loophole that allows them to refuse to cross picket lines and others using health and safety loopholes to refuse to work.
The general strike and national solidarity actions, built in under a week and with the severe deficit of practical knowledge in the tactic that’ s to be expected after a drought of over sixty years, has to be judged a success.
In raw numbers, it didn't’ t match the giant “Immigrant Spring” of 2006, but the impact of this day on political consciousness and sense of the possible, in the United States and internationally, is enormous. Two months ago, it was unthinkable that there would be an open-ended protest encamped in downtown Oakland. One month ago, it was unthinkable that the infant Occupation would muster a General Assembly of 2,000 — much less overwhelmingly pass an ambitious call for a general strike. One week ago, it was unthinkable that this call would be met with success.
The strike was about the right to assemble and practice the novel form of organization used at this stage of the movement — securing and defending the democratic right upon which greater rights can be won. That right has been secured. It would seem that the failure of New York City to clear Zucotti Park and the failure of Oakland to prevent the retaking of Oscar Grant Plaza are two major tactical blunders on the part of the ruling class. The potential to crush and demoralise the Occupations while they were in a relatively immature phase was lost.
The Occupy movement as a whole has won a tremendous victory in reframing politics in the United States. The Oakland general strike has introduced a new element — acting on the special social power of the working class to stop production, rather than just our numerical strength.
It was also the most successful example yet of bridging the physical occupation site with a mobilisation of its widespread support in the city. The general strike balanced this dynamic — recognizing the irreplaceable political role of the occupation (at this point) while not sucking all activity into maintaining the occupation.
As a strategic orientation begins to develop, political differences will become more clear.
These differences may initially sprout from tactics-elevated-to-strategy (like “pacifists” vs “anti-pacifists” — which both treat the use, or abstention from using, physical force as some kind of holy principle). A broad movement will have both present, will be led by neither, and would make tactical choices that include “property destruction” as a means to an end (for example, mass squatting or workplace occupation).
Occupy Oakland is also, by far, the most multiracial and multinational Occupy I’ ve seen yet (although not representative of the working class of the city). There are surely lessons in how to advance beyond “representational” and symbolic approaches to building an anti-racist movement into truly linking with, incorporating and strengthening movements that are already taking up issues of institutional racism.
In the short term, the main task for Oakland will be evaluating the successes and weaknesses of the strike effort, bringing in new leaders, and identifying a medium-term strategy for expanding the Occupation movement in the city. For the time being, Oakland make take a leadership role nationally, in the way that New York has provided.
Whatever happens, the terrain is much more favourable for our side than it was just a week ago.
• Abridged from the Solidarity USA website.