fragments of an attempted writing.

general strike

I like the combination of the red and black syndicalist general strike poster aesthetic with the day of the dead theme.  Good show fellow workers in Oakland.

As of this writing the news is reporting 4,000-4,500 or so folks at the port in Oakland this evening; Wobblies and Commies on the ground there reported around 10,000.  The numbers are always a bit of a crap shoot.  The port is now effectively shut down and a few moments ago the ILWU said longshoremen scheduled to work tonight have been sent home and/or told not to report to work.  There are plans among the strikers for an overnight occupation (nighttime is a very busy time at a port - the Port of Oakland's 7pm shift is it's busiest shift).  The Port of Oakland handles a container volume of just under 61,000 containers a day.  Their website states that an estimated average of $11,000,000 in goods passes through the port each day, but that seems low to me as that would mean that each 20'x20' container has only $180 or so worth of goods in it.  Oakland's is the fifth busiest port in the U.S.

The spokesperson for the ILWU has said that the longshoremen's union is contractually obligated such that they cannot sanction a strike at this time, but the longshoreman's union has had a number of struggles of late - a longshoreman's wildcat strike briefly shut down the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma in September of this year, and a wildcat protest at the Port of Longview involved overpowering and holding security guards, damaging railroad cars, and dumping grain.  As anyone who follows American labor knows, the ILWU is a union that has a relatively radicalized membership.  After hearing of the call for a general strike on Nov. 2nd, members of the ILWU spoke at the Occupy Oakland general assembly and asked the GA to occupy the Port of Oakland on the day of the general strike.  ILWU members also spoke at the OWS GA and several other large GAs across the country, asking for support for the occupation of the Oakland General Strike and the occupation of the Port of Oakland during this general strike.

$11,000,000 (or so) slowed down by 24 hours (great if it were more but that seems very unlikely) is barely a blip on the radar screen of American capitalism.  But this moment is an important one nonetheless.  Even if all the general strikers were to leave the Port of Oakland a few hours from now, they did manage to effectively shut down the Port and stop freight traffic around the port, the general strike did involve workers from all sectors, it had union leadership support in some cases, and in other cases involved rather overt wildcat actions within unions, about every radical organization in America was involved, with heavy representation by the IWW which has a substantial number of members active within both the ILWU and among the regulars at Occupy Oakland, and of course there were a number of people not associated with any union or any radical organization who showed up to today's general strike and were pressed in a more radical direction.  But the key is that a general strike was called, workers from all sectors responded, and the Port was shut down.  This means that today we have seen the first effective general strike in America in the last 65 years.

Of course nothing may come of this anytime soon.  Of course conservatives and many liberals will ask what the point of all this is and in various and sundry ways write it off as not much more than puerile venting by the "unwashed masses."  Many will continue their feigned confusion and sheepishly repeat their droned question "what do the protesters want to accomplish?"

And maybe Occupy Everywhere will fall apart next week.  Or during the next cold wave.  Or 6 weeks from now due to internal divisions and/or the perception that or some other group "took over" the movement.

In American labor history direct actions usually "fail," as does just about every tactic ever used by labor.  There are generally many more "losses" than successes with any attempt at the use of direct action toward a given end - if by loss you mean that there was no immediate threat to capital and/or no immediate granting of labor demands.  General strike movements usually putter about for months or years before, if ever, they have a clear and direct success.  But when they succeed in actually shutting down commerce in a given area they tend to strike some fear into the powers that be - at least the past efforts used to get rid of radical elements within labor suggest as much.  The more direct action you see, the more carrot and/or stick is used to cease the instigators of those direct actions.  And in American labor history this has been accomplished through an often surprising coalition of anti-radical forces and an incredible amount of fervency and efficiency. Strange bedfellows and generally slow moving bureaucratic forces can really come together when the matter-at-hand is de-radicalizing a labor uprising.

You don't need that many successfully conducted general strikes to make the threat of a general strike carry some weight.  That mainstream union locals are now publicly supporting the use of general strikes (as was seen in WI before the Dems got the feet off the ground in Madison, and is currently seen in Oakland where even a UAW local sanctioned its members' participation in the strike) suggests that there is at least a chance that mainstream labor, long a bastion of the worst effects of liberal policies and liberal ideology, has potential to be radicalized again.   This is significant.  

We are now in a post-Fukuyama period.  As many have noted, we’ve past the “end of history” and lo and behold, history has emerged again.  It seems that most anarchists and old leftists will tell you that they don’t expect the Occupy movement to “succeed” by conventional standards of a political success.  But these folks in the same breath will tell you that it doesn't have to succeed to succeed.  All it has to do is to display to the masses that paradigm of on-the-streets militancy as the initial primary vehicle through which to confront power in our culture.  It has to re-radicalize just a moderate portion the left and/or left-inclined and/or use-to-be-left and/or would-have-been-left-had-it-not-been-for-conservative-populism.  Organization can come later.  Agreed upon political theory can come later, or not.  Of course, many anarchist and old leftist groups had the same “later” approach in the 60s and 70s, but in the 60s and 70s the liberal project still held promise.  Outside of places like Washington DC and academic settings, that promise is pretty much bankrupt in our culture today, especially among the lower ranks of the working classes.  In many respects it makes more sense for them to embrace an overt conservatism today than it does for them to keep being played by liberals.  If things continue to decline economically and politically, even in America more and more people will be open to the ethos of protest militancy and direct actions - actions which infuriate the liberal establishment because it bypasses them.  If active discontent among the working classes continues to expand, watch for increased red-baiting, the old liberal standard in the face of increasingly radicalized workers.  

In the near term to medium term either there will be some sort of temporary scheme which creates something close enough to a 90s boom to create job growth and assuage the public (this would provide a band aid until the edifice behind it collapses), or there will be continued economic decline for most Americans.  Whether actual or perceived decline does not matter.   This will increase class tensions, increase the likelihood of people to become militant, and so forth.  At some point the right will no longer be able to use the “get a job” “look at those affluent wanna-be hippie” "$34,000 a year puts you in the top 1% in the world" canards, and then the right will have to go the route it always does in crisis – towards a nationalism which uses the usual fuels for nationalist fears – racism, foreign aggressors & intrigue, red-baiting, and so forth.  I don’t know that the left in this country will be able to overcome the onslaught from the right when this plays out.  The "usual suspect" left today is impotent in electoral politics and pretty much so in the culture at large.  It is hard to imagine the American people not being pulled and prodded into a more dramatic right wing nationalistic furor if social unrest were to escalate.  We seem ripe for that in so many respects.  Then again, five years ago who would have predicted a successful American general strike in five years time?

Lastly, a small group of anarchists paid a visit to the Whole Foods in Oakland on this day, which ought to warm the heart of anyone who has ever admired Phil Och's Love Me I'm A Liberal song, as Whole Foods is such a magnet for that set today:

Tearing down the white picket fence at Whole Foods Oakland.

Re-arranging the seating at Whole Foods Oakland.

Facelift for Whole Foods Oakland.

 Advertising community activities at Whole Foods Oakland.  How localist!


  1. A video of the black bloc kids encountering the peace chanting hipsterites:

  2. That video scared the shit out of me. Thank you. How in hell am I going to sing Bairstow's "Lord, Thou hast been our refuge" ( at Presbyterian church--that bastion of conservatism--choir tonight? Again--with tongue firmly planted in my cheek--thanks.

  3. At some point the right will no longer be able to use the “get a job” “look at those affluent wanna-be hippie” "$34,000 a year puts you in the top 1% in the world" canards, and then the right will have to go the route it always does in crisis – towards a nationalism which uses the usual fuels for nationalist fears – racism, foreign aggressors & intrigue, red-baiting, and so forth.

    Owen, Owen, Owen, I know you've never been anywhere, but look at a map. The USA is not floating in a void. There is no way to get from here to your commie paradise without closing the borders, and there is no way to close the borders without that icky nationalism that you hate so much. You are free to fatuously dismiss huge global inequities as you have done but the reality remains; poor in America is rich in the most of the world. The poor and hungry of the earth are here, they are in Oakland, they are in Seattle, they are in LA. Your CPUSA pals and your black bloc girlfriends cannot contain them. When they rise up and start eating the rich because they believe the rich can no longer defend themselves, because you and your friends made them believe it, you and your friends will have to answer for the subesequent just and legitimate state response. You are doing this, you are making it happen. Not "the right." You.

  4. mercy,

    If there is somehow a way to combine Glen Beckism and Maoism, I think you just accomplished it.

  5. Someone beat her to it:

    Of course, the opposite side of this argument is then that America MUST bomb the shit out of brown people in order to keep up its standard of living. While as a brown person, this is a tempting position to succumb to, I am reminded that the United States is divided into classes as well, and revolution is often not a matter of morality strictly speaking, and so on.

    Having been in the Bay Area left, the November 2nd action didn't surprise me, though it was encouraging. The left in the Bay Area is rather large, and of course they had large anti-war demonstrations there last decade. Whether something more will come of it I don't know. I do know that the right-wing rhetorically is running out of energy. When Herman Cain, for example, says that if you are not rich, it is your own fault, how many people believe him? At a certain point, the economic situation simply isn't going to sustain the whole "Horatio Alger" mythology, and then where do you go? Open fascism, or perhaps somewhere else.

  6. More and more, I am convinced that Marxism is warmed-over feudalism. Except that feudalism had better art.

    diane, slightly off-topic as usual

  7. This incident seems to capture everything. It seems like a Rorschach test.

  8. Oh BTW, "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" has to be one of THE all-time-great folk songs. I have always had a soft spot for Phil Ochs.

    And Whole Foods...oy, don't get me started.



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