Oakland General Strike a Success, but Cops Seriously Injure another Vet
Police Repression Against Occupy Movement Nation Wide
Corporate Media Attempts to Divert Attention to From Successful General Strike to Small Acts of Vandalism
By Steven Argue
In response to severe violence carried out by the city government of Oakland on October 25th, much of the city of Oakland was shut down on November 2nd and successful mass protests took to the streets. By conservative estimates 50,000 people demonstrated. Protesters included many union people wearing their union shirts as well as students. Marches included a morning march, a noon march on the banks, an anti-capitalist march, and a march of over 10,000 people that shut down the Port of Oakland with a mass picket honored by members of ILWU Local 10.
It was an overwhelming response against the police violence carried out under Democrat Mayor Jean Quan’s administration that attempted to shut down the peaceful Occupy Oakland protest on October 25th with severe violence. Many people were injured by the cops and one protester, Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran and member of Iraq War Veterans Against the War, was hit in the head by a projectile fired by the cops at close range. The injury knocked him out with a fractured skull and has caused severe damaged to the speech center of his brain making him no longer able to speak.
Kayvan Sabehgi, a Second Veteran Seriously Injured
A second veteran has now been seriously injured by the police on November 2nd. This time it was Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Kayvan Sabehgi whose spleen was ruptured due to a brutal beating by cops. He told the Guardian Newspaper from his hospital bed:
"There was a group of police in front of me. They told me to move, but I was like: 'Move to where?' There was nowhere to move. Then they lined up in front of me. I was talking to one of them, saying 'Why are you doing this?' when one moved forward and hit me in my arm and legs and back with his baton. Then three or four cops tackled me and arrested me."
According to Kayvan Sabehgi he was simply walking up 14th street alone and walking away from the protests at the time he was arrested and beaten.
There was a militant protest taking place on a different street, but that was all the way over on 16th street. That protest attempted to take over an empty building that formerly housed the Traveler’s Aid Society of Oakland, an agency that provided assistance to the homeless before it was shut down due to budget cuts. Protesters occupied the building trying to take it over as a place for people to sleep as the weather gets colder and to bring attention to the government’s austerity that has taken place. They were also attempting to bring attention to the fact that wealthy landlords are keeping buildings empty while the unemployed and underemployed are being driven out into the streets to sleep.
The protesters were, however, attacked by hundreds of cops with flashbang grenades, tear gas, and bean bag guns. After being driven out of the building by the cops the protesters built a barricade on Broadway and lit it on fire. A man in his 50s or 60s was shot in the leg by the cops and injured.
After his arrest and brutal beating, Kayvan Sabehgi was not given medical attention for his ruptured spleen. Instead of medical attention, an unqualified jail nurse gave him a wrong diagnoses and tried to give him a suppository, which he refused. Throwing up, suffering diarrhea, and unable to walk, Kayvan Sabehgi was allowed to crawl to another toilet to try to use it, but it was clogged. After suffering for many hours in his cell, his bail was paid at noon the next day, but Kayvan was unable to get up and leave. The police response? They simply closed his cell door on him; once again denying him needed medical attention. An additional six hours passed before the police finally called an ambulance at 6 PM.
Police Violence Keeps Escalating the Movement
Since the beginning of the Occupy movement local city governments have attempted to silence it through police violence and other acts of police repression. Each act of violence, however, has brought about an escalation in the movement.
On September 22nd Occupy Wall Street protesters who were standing up against the government lynching of Troy Davis, an innocent prisoner who was executed in the state of Georgia, were repeatedly clubbed, blockaded, and arrested. On September 24th police penned in protesters and pepper sprayed women in the face. This act of violence was video taped and sparked outrage. In addition, trapped protesters had their feet kicked out from under them before being arrested, including a woman taking photos. Eighty five people were arrested that day. On October 5th, with the OK of billionaire Democrat Mayor Bloomberg, police blocked protesters marching on the Brooklyn Bridge arresting 700 people.
This police repression brought out union support in New York City and a rapid eruption of “Occupy” protests in 150 cities across the country and around the world. That number has expanded to 900 cities now. In Boston on October 11th protests were once again met with police repression with cops arresting 100 people and using violence against members of Veterans for Peace for refusing to move their protest from a public square.
From the other side of the barricades, JP Morgan epitomized the capitalist response to the police repression by giving the New York Police a record “charitable” gift of .6 million.
While the response of JP Morgan and Mayor Bloomberg has been clear in support of police repression; and the response of unions and protests popping up across the country has been heartening, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement at times has not had a clear understanding of police repression. In New York on September 30th a protest against police acts went to police headquarters. Within the crowd were people chanting “We are all Sean Bell, NYPD go to hell.” The protesters were referring to the 2006 New York Police murder of the unarmed Black man Sean Bell who was shot 50 times. Other protesters waving American flags tried to silence them, however, and instead chanted to the murderous and repressive police who had just beaten, maced, and arrested 85 protesters “Join us”. Likewise, a black woman who tried to report police entrapment while protesting on the Brooklyn bridge was shut down by the facilitators of the “peoples’ microphone” who said, “This is not the time for personal statements”.
On October 14th Mayor Bloomberg tried to take the repression a step further by clearing the Occupy Wall Street Protesters from renamed Liberty Plaza (aka Zuccotti Park, named after a real-estate mogul who owns the park and much of the property surrounding it). Yet, a mass protest defending the square that include strong union support caused the police of Mayor Bloomberg to back down. That, however, didn’t prevent the police from arresting four people that day including a man who was run over by a police motorcycle and roughed up when he finally kicked the motorcycle off of his leg.
At the heart of the capitalist system is a police force whose job it is to abuse labor, people of color, the poor, the homeless, and leftists. It is their job as professional thugs to protect Wall Street from the 99%. The hierarchies of police forces have purposely protected and promoted the most brutal police with the least connection to humanity in order to have a police force that is always loyal to the capitalist government and capitalist class at times like this. The thugs who had just beaten, maced, and arrested 85 protesters will not “join us”. They, and the politicians of the Democrat and Republican Parties that give them their orders, work for the wealthy 1%, not us.
The Oakland Police Riot and Labor Responds
A further escalation of police violence occurred at five AM on October 25th when over 500 Oakland cops and cops from other jurisdictions attacked peaceful protesters at the Occupy Oakland encampment. They moved in with full riot gear and armored vehicles viciously attacking with clubs, concussion grenades, tear gas, wooden slugs, bean bag canisters, and possibly rubber bullets. Eighty five people were arrested. Through the day the number of protesters grew to about 3,000 people despite continued police violence with protests moving to a number of locations. It was in this police attack that Scott Olsen sustained an injury to the speech center of his brain. .
In response to the Oakland violence, on Wednesday October 26th nearly 2,000 people reclaimed the square that police violence drove them from, renamed it Oscar Grant Plaza, and voted for a general strike and mass demonstration to be held on November 2nd. The plaza’s name is after Oscar Grant who was shot by an Oakland Bart cop while laying handcuffed and face down in 2009. His murderer, killer cop Johannes Mehserle, was given a slap on the wrist and walks free today.
Over the next week a number of unions issued statements of support. These included the 3,000 member United Brotherhood of Carpenter’s Local 713 who voted to go on strike. Statements of solidarity and calls to action that suggested workers take the day off and join the strike protests were issued by the 50,000 member SEIU Local 1021, the Oakland Education Association representing Oakland’s teachers, and the California Nurses Association. A strong statement of support also came from important members of the longshoreman’s union (ILWU local 10) and the boatman’s union (IBU).
In the evening the evening of November 2nd at least 10,000 people marched on the Port of Oakland and set up a mass picket. As is their tradition, longshoremen in ILWU Local 10 honored the community picket lines shutting down the Port of Oakland, the fourth busiest port in the United States.
But the impact on the port didn’t just start in the evening. Earlier in the day, Jack Heyman, an active former business agent for ILWU local 10, reported at 9:25 after driving around the docks:
"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."
Jack Heyman explained that this was due to rank and file members standing in solidarity with the call for a general strike made by Occupy Oakland protesters.
In contrast, NBC reported the port was running as usual, but the Oakland Tribune confirmed the truck back-up reported by Jack Heyman. There are reports that the port may have had some work conducted during the day, however. What is not in question is the fact that work on the port least slowed substantially (at least) during the day and the port was shut down in the evening.
With over 50,000 people protesting in the street in three major protests through the course of the day, massive labor participation, and a shut down of the Port of Oakland, there is no question that the general strike was a success. Yet the corporate media is now blowing up the importance of a few acts of vandalism by protesters and agent provocateurs. This is a blatant attempt divert attention from a successful working class action. The fact that this diversion has captured the minds of many, including some people active in the Occupy movement, does mean that it warrants comment, but what warrants comment first are past general strikes and the successes they brought. This type of labor history is purposely kept from the American people by those in power.
The 1934 General Strikes
Before 1934 the labor movement of the United States was taking a beating and unable to effectively fight back due to the conservative leadership of the labor unions. It was a situation very similar to today. In 1934 this all changed when socialists took the leadership of three important unions and, unlike the entrenched union bureaucrats, were able to lead successful strikes. These were the San Francisco longshoremen’s union led by the Communist Party, the Minneapolis Teamsters led by the Trotskyist Communist League of America, and the Toledo Auto-Lite Strike led by the left socialist Workers Party.
These victorious strikes were the three most important strikes in U.S. history. Those victories (along with the tactics used) inspired the great labor upsurge that formed the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and made many gains against the employers. This is what created the climate that forced one of the parties of the ruling rich, the Democrats, to give the working class the “New Deal” in 1935.
As a result of facing a militant labor movement and an influential socialist movement in the working class, in 1935, at the height of another economic depression, the Democrat Party under Franklin Delano Roosevelt carried out a jobs program that improved the condition of the working class. Key components were Social Security in the Social Security Act of 1935, the first minimum wage (40 cents an hour) and the 40 hour work week in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and jobs organized through the Works Progress Administration of 1935 which employed 3.8 million people from 1935 to 1941 and built 11,000 schools, 122,000 public buildings, 77,000 bridges, 285 airports, 24,000 miles of sewer, and 664,000 miles of road.
Still, left socialists, including Trotskyists, were not satisfied with Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. They fought for far more, and in doing so got the gains that were achieved. Roosevelt, on the other hand, was a racist imperial president who installed the Somoza dynasty in Nicaragua, locked up Japanese Americans in internment camps, sent Jews back to their deaths in Europe, entered the war in Europe only after it was clear that the USSR would win the war, jailed Trotskyists and banned their newspaper during WWII for Trotskyist warnings that the U.S. could go fascist, and ruled over a country where, without Roosevelt’s intervention, the south was a semi-fascist state ruled by the KKK, Democrat Party, and local police who kept Black people in terror and prevented union organizing. American capitalist wealth has been achieved through slavery, the slaughter of American Indians, massive land theft from Mexico, the exploitation of labor, the exploitation of the environment, and the continuation of the U.S. imperialist empire. Roosevelt maintained and expanded U.S. imperialist exploitation of the underdeveloped world where Roosevelt installed and supported murderous dictatorships, like Somoza in Nicaragua, repressive governments friendly to American capitalist interests in cheap resources and labor.
To this day the ruling Democrats and Republicans have little disagreement on the U.S. subjugation and exploitation of the world. For instance, following in Roosevelt’s footsteps, the Obama administration participated in the overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Zalaya in Honduras in 2009 after that government raised the minimum wage and formed friendly relations with Venezuela. The new government the U.S. has helped impose on the people of Honduras murders journalists and union leaders and is generally more friendly to U.S. corporate interests. Like the Somoza dynasty imposed by Roosevelt, the power of the new death squad government in Honduras is maintained though repression and fraudulent elections with that government’s brute force backed up by U.S. military aid.
In the United States many people in this society are under the illusion that we live in a democracy where the majority rules. In fact, it is the wealthy 1% that rules America, not the majority. The capitalists own the two ruling parties under a system where it takes their money to be elected. Finance capital is currently the biggest contributor to the campaigns of both the Democrats and Republicans. So both parties do their bidding in many ways including through deregulation and a lack of prosecution for bankster fraud. Likewise, the Democrats and Republicans are beholden to other capitalist interests like big oil, coal, and the weapons industry who massively fund both parties. Change will come from the actions of militant labor, mass movements, and the programs of radical political parties that presently have no chance of being elected.
The 1946 Oakland General Strike
Building on the gains of the labor movement of the 1930s a mass post-war strike wave began in 1946 that brought further victories for the working class. This included the 1946 Oakland General Strike. The strike was in solidarity with 400 striking retail workers, most of them women, who were facing police repression. The City of Oakland had brought in 400 cops who beat people and cleared the streets to escort scabs into work places. In solidarity, 130,000 workers struck, but like this year’s strike, union leaders were legally unable to call it a strike. They called it a “worker’s holiday”. That strike was called off after two days when the government promised police neutrality in the retail strike. The retail workers won their strike a few weeks later.
During the 1946 Oakland General Strike people remembered the 1934 San Francisco General strike and how the capitalist own media slandered the strike and attempted to turn people against it. Instead of allowing them to spread misinformation the workers sent picket lines to shut down all of the main newspapers. These included the Oakland Tribune owned by the ruling class Nolan family, the Post Enquirer owned by Hearst, the Times Star in Alameda, and the Daily Gazette from Berkeley. Teamsters refused to bring the capitalist papers of San Francisco across the bridge in solidarity with the strike. Only working class newspapers were allowed on the streets. The workers were well aware of how the capitalist mainstream media attempts to demoralize and undermine strikes.
Corporate Media Spin Undermines the 2011 General Strike
Today the 2011 Oakland general strike is being demoralized and undermined by the coverage of the capitalist owned media that were shut down in 1946. Despite the success of the strike and demonstrations, the corporate media is now blowing up the importance of a few acts of vandalism by protesters and agent provocateurs. Video evidence has confirmed the presence of the Oakland Police at the protest wearing masks and pretending they were protesters. These are some of the same cops known to have brutalized protesters. Rather than focusing on the actual violence of the police, the successes of the general strike, and the scandalous presence of agent provocateurs from the Oakland Police at the protests, the corporate media is purposely creating public reactions against the vandalism of a few individuals to hurt the movement.
Buying this spin are some liberal pacifists who are flipping out claiming that property damage is the same thing as violence. Violence is what the cops have been doing to us denying us our democratic rights, tear gassing us, beating us, shooting us with supposed “less than lethal ammunition”, causing injuries including a disabling brain injury on Scott Olsen and causing Kayvan Sabehgi’s ruptured spleen, putting us in cages against our will, murdering people in communities of color, and carrying out a program of a mass incarceration of the poor. That’s violence.
Trying to take over a building to turn it over to the Occupy movement and the poor is not violence. Instead, it was the police who carried out violence to protect the private property of greedy landlords who keep people in the cold with high rent and vacant properties.
Other actions took place that damaged property as well. The black bloc spray painted graffiti and smashed a few windows and chairs of capitalist giants that included the union busting company Whole Foods and the big banks. That destruction was no crime against the working class. But it was also no blow against the capitalists who were targeted. The capitalists will fix the damage with very little comparative expense.
While the black bloc took credit for the vandalism on banks and Whole Foods, unknown people attacked Tully’s Café, a local café that had joined the strike. Potentially participating in this vandalism were Oakland cops who were witnessed wearing masks at the actions and pretending they were protesters. They likely destroyed property for the same reasons agent provocateurs always do. It is because such actions often serve to isolate the movement while costing the capitalists very little.
So what does cost the capitalists? Real actions of the working class like general strikes and shutting down the Port of Oakland. Far more powerful than busting up Whole Foods was the strike itself. Even more powerful would have been storming Whole Foods giving workers flyers for a union and trying to help them spontaneously meet, form a union, and join the general strike. While there is no guarantee of success, such actions organizing the unorganized have been successful in general strikes in France.
Likewise, the November 2nd General Strike was a far more powerful action against the banks than graffiti and broken windows. Obviously one general strike doesn’t solve our problems either, especially when it is mostly symbolic and called off before any demands are met. For protesters like myself who want something more radical, however, it doesn’t start with a few individuals smashing a few windows. For an actual change in society we will need to move beyond simply protesting corporate greed and build a revolutionary party with a revolutionary program that calls for nationalizing (socializing) the banks, big oil, big coal, health care, the armament industries, and all of the other industries whose capitalist owners are presently causing us so many problems.
Building the Revolutionary Response
Building a movement with this program for actual revolution is much harder work than playing revolution in the streets by smashing a few windows. To do so will take the building of a multi-tendency socialist movement that neither believes in capitalism nor in Stalinist dictatorship, but instead struggles for a socialist future with workers’ democracy. Under the democratic control of the working class, the production of our socially owned society will easily be used to provide everyone with a job, housing, education, health care, a cleaner environment, and emergency measures against climate change. A revolutionary socialist party that learns the lessons of the past and applies them to the labor movement and other movements of today is also needed just as that was what was needed with the big victorious strikes of 1934. A draft program for a revolutionary tendency within a united multi-tendency socialist party is being forged for this purpose. It will be issued in the near future by this author and others who chose to participate in the project.
This is an attempt to work towards building a certain kind of leadership with a specifically needed program. Many anarchists who are playing a major leadership role in the Occupy movement hate the word leadership. But leadership is a simple concept. It involves people with experience and knowledge using that to organize, teach, and take initiative in needed ways. That’s leadership.
And for socialists building a good leadership goes beyond some of the populist rhetoric of the Occupy movement. The problem isn’t just corporate greed; the problem is capitalism itself which is inherently greedy and unfair. The problem is not just acts of police violence; it is the capitalist state itself which is inherently violent against labor, people of color, and the poor. The problem isn’t just certain costly and murderous U.S. wars; the problem is U.S. capitalism itself which is inherently imperialistic. The problem isn’t the Federal Reserve that serves greedy private banking interests; the problem is privately owned banks themselves which should be nationalized under workers control in a socialized society. The question isn’t one of merely putting pressure on the 1%, the question is one of expropriating them to build a society with workers democracy and an ability to provide everyone with a job, housing, education, healthcare, a clean environment, and emergency measures to slow global warming.
On the positive side, in Oakland union leaders were swept along with calls for a general strike that came from the Occupy movement with rank and file pressure for such action from below. Both movements clicked up the class struggle a few notches in a way that has not been seen for decades.
But the latest sell-out by some of the same union leadership that participated in the strike is taking place right now with the leadership of SEIU Local 1021 and the San Francisco Labor Council backing Measure C. This is a proposition that will seriously harm pensions and health care for retirees (more on that in a coming article). But, unlike the socialist parties that led the three big 1934 strikes, many existing socialist parties are conservative and go along with the betrayals of union leaders, sometimes to maintain “leadership” jobs within the unions. A list of the socialist parties selling out on Measure C and going along with the union bureaucracy include the Party for Socialism and Liberation PSL/Answer, Workers World Party WWP, Solidarity, Workers Compass, Freedom Socialist Party, and Socialist Organizer. Despite having members in leadership positions on the San Francisco Labor Council, all of these groups have remained silent on the sell-out of the unions in support of Measure C. Such socialist parties fail with their conservatism when confronted with the actual class struggle and they have failed with their narrowly defined programs and top down leaderships that cause them to splinter into one party after another.
The one socialist party that has organized against Measure C is the San Francisco Peace and Freedom Party who did so working with the Green Party and the Grey Panthers. The Peace and Freedom Party has many problems, but they also have health as a socialist party because they allow public factions and tendencies. The time has come to build a healthy multi-tendency socialist movement and revolutionary tendency. To this end Liberation News is working to build what will be called the Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Party and the Peace and Freedom Party.
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