Occupy Oakland protesters plan to march on the port during strike
on October 29, 2011
Members of the Occupy Oakland general assembly discussed more details of the proposed general strike in the early evening Friday, agreeing after much fanfare to march on the Port of Oakland on Wednesday, November 2— the day of the proposed general strike— at 5 p.m.
With some tents back, the kitchen serving again, and the grass trampled to mud in most of the areas not occupied in front of City Hall at Frank Ogawa Plaza, the Occupy Oakland movement remained in full swing on Friday afternoon.
The general assembly began with a scene which has become common in front of City Hall since Occupy Oakland began on October 10, with the hundreds of people filling the amphitheater’s seats nearly to capacity and more people standing around the edge. Dozens gave their thoughts on a proposed statement on the purpose of the general strike, during which organizers intend to draw out people from their workplaces and school across Oakland for a day of mass protest.
Suggestions ranged from including a clause about the environment, racism, sexism, and U.S. Imperialism, to striking in the name of Oscar Grant.
When several dozen speakers said their part, organizers made revisions to the statement, read it aloud, and asked anyone voting ‘yes’ on the new statement to give a thumbs up.
As the thumbs went up, three young men walked the amphitheater’s floor, counting the votes and either entering the tallies on phones or writing them on their hands. The revised statement passed 451-4, with 14 “stand-asides.”
A poster spreading the word about the strike, which was passed out by the hundreds at the general assembly, invites students, workers, and everyone else to “converge on downtown Oakland to help shut down the city.”
The poster reads: “All banks and corporations must close down for the day or we will march on them.”
Mass gatherings at Frank Ogawa Plaza are also scheduled for 9 a.m., noon and 5 p.m on Nov. 2.
The general strike has been a subject of discussion at Frank Ogawa Plaza since the general assembly voted for it with overwhelming support on October 26, one night after police and protesters clashed on Broadway. At the time, exactly what actions the protesters would take during the strike were uncertain.
But during Friday’s general assembly at a little before 6 p.m., following the discussion of the strike statement, direction was instilled into the crowd when Boots Riley, an Oakland rapper famous for his longtime affiliation with The Coup, a politically-minded music group, took to the stage and asked the crowd to consider blocking the Port of Oakland.
“We’ve been talking, and we’ve come up with something that we think is possible,” he said.
Riley said that the port workers have contractual obligations which prevent them from taking part in any blockade, and that in meetings with himself and the International Longshore Warehouse Union (ILWU)— which represents the some of the port’s workers— union leaders made it clear they would not endorse or take part in the effort.
However, Riley said, union leaders also made it clear that their members would not cross a picket line if one were erected.
Riley said that ILWU workers at the Port of Oakland workers have been involved in a dispute with the EGT company—a consortium of the St. Louis-based logistics firm Bunge International, the Japanese firm Itochu International, Inc., and the South Korean firm STX Pan Ocean.
ILWU workers in Longview, Washington have been involved in an ongoing and highly publicized dispute with EGT, and Riley suggested that workers at the Port of Oakland had similar grievances.
“We would be doing this because the longshoremen are in a struggle with EGT,” Riley said of the Oakland workers. “This would be in support of that struggle.”
The amphitheater crowd erupted in cheers at the end of Riley’s speech. When a vote was taken, seven people voted against the proposal. The thumbs up in support were considered too numerous to count at the amphitheater, and so the measure passed.
Speaking after the meeting, Riley said he would not comment on meetings between himself, other Occupy Oakland organizers, and the ILWU, except to emphasize once more that the union’s leaders would not endorse or take part in the proposed blockade. But even without their direct support, he said, it would be possible to block the port with a large enough crowd.
“We have enough people right here,” he said, gesturing to the amphitheater. “It could be done with 500 people. We’re going to have thousands of people.”
“I think it would get news, and it’s a great way to connect this movement with the capital at the port,” said Joanna Steinhardt, a graduate student in the anthropology department at UC Santa Barbara. Steinhardt said she was considering skipping class to join the strike on November 2.
As it was proposed, the blockade will take place prior to the port’s 7 p.m. shift change, when protesters will march to the port following the 5 p.m. post-strike meeting at Frank Ogawa Plaza.
With thousands of containers passing through it daily, the Port of Oakland is the fifth busiest port in the United States, behind Long Beach, Los Angeles, Newark, N.J., and Savannah, GA. The Port of Oakland directly employs 465 people— none of whom are affiliated with ILWU.
According to its website, the Port of Oakland’s activities affect about 827,000 jobs nationwide.
The last time protesters attempted to block the Port of Oakland was in April 2003, when protesters, organized by the San Francisco-based activist group Direct Action Against the War, tried to block workers from entering the port because at least one shipping company operating there was supplying the Iraq War effort.
That protest drew considerable attention from local and national news media after Oakland police used rubber bullets and other projectiles to disperse the protesters, injuring a number of people including six longshoremen caught in the crossfire.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.
This story has been amended from the original. The original failed to mention that the 465 people directly employed by the Port of Oakland are not affiliated with the ILWU.
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