“Progress consists of the application of intelligence to the reduction of effort and dependency, and the expansion of a sphere of idleness and individual freedom.”
—Franco “Bifo” Berardi, After The Future
The Occupy movement is going through a pivotal moment right now, with various camps—notably Oakland, Portland, and New York City—being destroyed by police action during the past few days. The punditocracy and the politicians are all hoping this will bring it to an end, but that is not going to happen. It is likely that the focus on camping and holding public plazas may give way to new tactics, but the newly vocal populations all over the U.S. are not going to be silenced just as they’ve rediscovered their voices.
In particular, the Oakland General Strike of November 2 was an historic event. For the first time in the U.S. an urban General Strike emerged from the new working classes, the precarious, the unemployed, the unorganized, and the poor, brought together 2,000-strong in the Occupy Oakland General Assembly on October 26 and voting 96% in favor. One week later it happened, and it was an amazing day.
General Strikes are not so rare in other parts of the world, of course. Several cities in Syria have been out for almost two weeks as I write. Italy and France have had many one-day general strikes in the past decades. But those have been led by giant trade union confederations, and kept under pretty tight control.
The Oakland General Strike was an opening salvo from an unexpected quarter: the “precariat” (a neologism made by combing precarious and proletariat). Local unions could not formally endorse the call in such a short time, and are often bound by no-strike clauses in their contracts. Nevertheless, rank-and-file members of the Service workers (SEIU 1021), the Teamsters, the Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and others, enthusiastically joined in during the day-long festival that gripped the center of Oakland, culminating in the mass marches towards dusk that shut down the Port of Oakland, the nation’s fifth largest. But organized labor was following, not leading this General Strike. The people filled the city center with music, banners, marches, humor, performance, food, yoga, meditation, childcare, art-making, and more. Rappers, hip-hop spoken word artists, and folk musicians all performed in the streets. Urban farmers showed up with free vegetables grown in the city’s reclaimed lots. Free valet bike parking was provided by local bicycle advocates. Dozens of economic and environmental justice activists were in the mix. The Oakland General Strike not only halted business as usual in much of Oakland, but demonstrated practical everyday alternatives that are already well entrenched in the area.
Most hopefully, the Oakland General Strike excited everyone who turned out, leading to cascading feelings of solidarity and possibility, which in turn flows out of Oakland and across the networks of occupiers everywhere. Solidarity messages flowed in from as far away as Egypt, while Oakland suddenly found itself in the eyes of the world. The one-day strike was a powerful demonstration to local and national elites, but more importantly, it was a powerful demonstration to participants and allies, shifting imaginations about what is possible. More »