Occupy Oakland protests failed to kindle national strikes, instead descending into violence. Oakland will be hard-pressed to achieve its goals, but the Internet could help.
Occupy Oakland's call for a general strike Wednesday yielded mixed results. It seems likely that the goal of using the day to launch a similar, nationwide action will suffer because of violence and vandalism that erupted early Thursday, say observers as well as organizers.
But protesters did succeed in shutting down the nation’s fifth busiest port for at least five hours and bringing an estimated 10,000-strong crowd into the streets.
Many, like third-generation Bay area longshore worker Clarence Thomas, had positioned the day of mass action as “a dry run” for the next step – a national, general strike. But overnight things turned sour.
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“A small group of people took what was a very successful day of non-violent action by thousands of people from every sector of the city and turned it into hammers breaking windows and violence,” Occupy Oakland media team member Allan Brill said Thursday.
“Our movement does not endorse violence,” he added. On the contrary, he said many who participated Wednesday talked about the day’s larger impact on activities in other cities. “We would like to see a coordinated national strike coming out of this,” he said.
The conventional wisdom suggests, however, that even without the black eye of vandalism and skirmishes with law enforcement, the likelihood of the Oakland one-day general strike spawning a nationwide unified work stoppage may be remote at best, says Ben Agger, sociology professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Historically, such mass mobilization has required a vast, unified front, “which traditionally comes from unions.”
But, with a serious decline in union membership in the US as well as what he calls the “lack of class identification,” general strikes are unlikely to spread.
Union membership is now under 10 percent of the national workforce, Professor Agger says. “How many of white collar and pink collar workers identify themselves with the working class?” Not many.
Even though many unions – teachers, nurses, carpenters, and even the longshore workers – endorsed Oakland’s call to action, they stopped short of calling their members out for an official strike, despite the Bay Area longshore workers' progressive tradition, says Dartmouth assistant sociology professor Marc Dixon.