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Longshore workers applaud Occupy Oakland’s port shutdown

Published Nov 16, 2011 10:06 PM

The writer is an ILWU Local 10 Executive Board member and national co-chair of the Million Worker March Movement. The article was written on Nov. 8.

The eyes of the world were on the city of Oakland and the massive people’s march to the nation’s fifth-largest container port on Nov. 2 for the General Strike and Day of Mass Action called by Occupy Oakland. Not only has the Occupy movement gone global, Occupy Oakland has become the focal point of the movement. In fact, on Oct. 28, Egyptian pro-democracy protesters marched from Tahrir Square to the U.S. Embassy in support of Occupy Oakland and against police brutality witnessed in Oakland on Oct. 25, and commonly experienced in Egypt.

The unprecedented outpouring of a broad cross section of the community numbering in the tens of thousands is the most significant independent people’s mobilization in the U.S. thus far in the 21st century.

This call for a General Strike was in response to the coordinated military-style attack by 18 police agencies in the Bay Area that attempted to evict the encampment of Occupy Oakland at Oscar Grant Plaza, where U.S. veteran Scott Olsen, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, was critically wounded by a teargas canister shot to his head by Oakland police.

This call for a General Strike was not called by labor, and perhaps rightfully so, because only 12.9 percent of the overall workforce is unionized. In fact, in the private sector just 7.2 percent of the workers are unionized. This is the lowest percentage since 1900.

While it is true that it would take more than a week to organize a General Strike in this country, the fact of the matter is that organized labor would not get the blessing of their Democratic Party masters to take such an action. Remember, the Republican and Democratic parties are controlled by Wall Street and the 1 percent.

The rank and file of labor is ready to take militant action at the point of production or service. SEIU Local 1021 was able to get their city workers the day off to either participate in the “stop work” action or not to be required to come to work for health and safety reasons.

The Port of Oakland’s last two shutdowns came as the result of Local 10 members taking solidarity action. The first was the Justice for Oscar Grant — “Stop Police Brutality, Jail Killer Cops” — action, where longshore workers closed five Bay Area ports on Oct. 23, 2010.

The second Port of Oakland shutdown was the April 4, 2011, voluntary rank-and-file action to shut down the Port of Oakland for 24 hours on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in solidarity with the Wisconsin public sector workers’ fight for collective bargaining.

The resolution by the Occupy Oakland Strike Assembly states on its website www.occupyoakland.org the reason for shutting down the Port of Oakland:

“We are doing this in order to blockade the flow of capital on the day of the General Strike, as well as to show our commitment to solidarity with Longshore workers in their struggle against EGT in Longview, Wash. EGT is an international grain exporter which is attempting to rupture longshore jurisdiction. The driving force behind EGT is Bunge LTD, a leading agribusiness and food company which reported $2.4 billion in profit in 2010; this company has strong ties to Wall Street. This is but one example of Wall Street’s corporate attack on workers. The Oakland General Strike will demonstrate the wide-reaching implications of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The entire world is fed up with the huge disparity of wealth caused by the present system. Now is the time that the people are doing something about it. The Oakland General Strike is a warning shot to the 1% — their wealth only exists because the 99% creates it for them.”

The importance of the Port of Oakland shutdown was that it linked up labor, the community and Occupy Oakland in a strategic action at the point of production. Not only was the Port of Oakland shutdown impacting the movement of cargo in the Pacific Rim, it also disrupted rail schedules, trucking scheduling and “just in time delivery” services for companies such as Wal-Mart, on Nov. 2.

The labor movement must take a leading role in building a broad-based, working-class movement that challenges corporate rule and power by putting forward a people’s agenda, such as the one put forward by the Million Worker March Movement in 2004, which includes the following:

Stop corporate greed!
Hands off Social Security!
Slash the military budget!
Universal health care!
Stop dismantling public education!
Bring the troops home now!
Tax relief for the working class!
Repeal corporate free trade agreements!
Amnesty for all undocumented workers!
Stop offshoring American jobs!
Preserve and restore the environment!
Workers right to organize!
Tax the rich!
National living wage!
Truth in media!
End to police brutality!
Repeal Taft-Hartley!
Enforce all civil rights!
Guaranteed pensions!
Repeal Patriot Act!

The Nov. 2 General Strike and Day of Mass Action in Oakland was more than just a day of protest against corporate rule, power and police repression. It was a day of resistance interrupting the flow of commerce, and the closure of banks and the Port. It sets the example for other Occupy movements throughout the country to follow. The General Assembly of Occupy Dallas has already called for a Dallas General Strike on Nov. 30, 2011.

NOTE: The morning of Nov. 2, Oakland progressive rap artist, Boots Riley, and Clarence Thomas provided an insightful interview on the Occupy Oakland General Strike events of the day on Democracy Now! at www.democracynow.org.