Following the harsh crackdown by police against Occupy Oakland, activists have been calling for a city-wide general strike on Wednesday to protest police and city behavior. The momentum for the strike has grown following endorsements by the SEIU Local 1021 labor union and the Oakland Educational Association.
Other than building up the activist momentum to actually carry out the strike, there are also legal and logistical issues with general strikes. Under the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, “a general strike in support of other workers is illegal,” making general strikes effectively barred. In addition to these possible legal hurdles, organizing a general strike would require collective action that is difficult under current organizing rules.
However, it is worthwhile to note that Oakland was the site of America’s last great general strike. Over the course of two days in December 1946, 130,000 workers in Oakland refused to work out of solidarity with a strike by 400 mostly female retail clerks in which police were intervening. Union officials called the massive strike a “worker’s holiday.” All stores but pharmacies and food markets were shut down. After two days, the general strike ended when the city government pledged police neutrality in future strikes. The retail strike continued for another five months before being resolved.
That year, there were six general strikes, “setting the all time record for strikes and work stoppages in the U.S.” The hundreds of thousands of workers who went on strike that year won major concessions and served as fighters for the most robust middle class America had ever seen. Despite the laws barring solidarity strikes, a general strike in Oakland may set the path for more militant labor action that, like in the past, would once again help rebuild this middle class.