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Occupy Oakland calls for citywide general strike

The strike, planned for Wednesday, has gained nationwide support from activists and philosophical backing of labor unions. But city business leaders fear the city's strained economy could suffer further.

November 02, 2011|By Lee Romney, Los Angeles Times
  • Occupy Oakland protesters carry Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen after he was hit by a tear gas canister on Oct. 25.
Occupy Oakland protesters carry Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen after he was… (Kimihiro Hoshino / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from San Francisco -- The revived Occupy Oakland movement has called for a citywide general strike Wednesday that has garnered nationwide support from activists and the philosophical backing of labor unions, while triggering growing consternation that the city's strained economy could suffer further.

The call for businesses to close and residents to demonstrate at banks and later march to the Port of Oakland came after last week's heavy police response to protesters speaking out against the razing of the movement's City Hall encampment.

Demonstrations in support of Oakland's strike are planned in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and elsewhere, and organizers, who were allowed to reestablish their camp, said that letters of solidarity have flooded in from around the world, most notably from Tahrir Square demonstrators in Cairo.

"Tomorrow is going to be a test of what's possible with this historical movement, how far this will go," said Tim Simmons, 28, among the encampment's residents.

The Port of Oakland was chosen as the protest site because the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has a rare contract clause that allows workers to honor certain community picket lines. If workers arriving for a 7 p.m. shift decide not to cross the line, a shutdown could result.

Most unions, in contrast, have "no strike" clauses but are offering general support to the Occupy Oakland action. Some members, including teachers and nurses, plan to skip work and attend the marches.

The last U.S. general strike thought to be a success took place in Oakland in 1946, according to Ken Jacobs, chairman of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. During that two-day "work holiday," only bars stayed open, on the condition that they limit sales to beer and place their jukeboxes on the sidewalk. Aaron Arrell, manager of Oaklandish, a downtown store, plans to honor history by closing and hiring a DJ for demonstrators.

"We'll be here in solidarity," he said.

But even sympathetic businesses have said they can't afford to shut down. "A general strike is a very, very high bar," said Jacobs, who predicted "a significant protest" instead.

Meanwhile, there were signs of growing frustration with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan — who ordered the camp dismantled only to allow campers to return after riot-geared officers responded to demonstrators with tear gas and other projectiles.

"It is my hope that tomorrow's general strike is peaceful and places the issues of the 99% front and center," she said in a statement Tuesday. "I am working with the police chief to make sure that the pro-99% activists — whose cause I support — will have the freedom to get their message across without the conflict that marred last week's events."

The Oakland Police Officers Assn. responded with an open letter saying that Quan's mixed messages have left them "confused."

Meanwhile, some merchants in the plaza say business has plummeted. And Paul Junge, public policy director for the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said two commercial landlords just had nearly inked downtown deals fall through.

In a letter to Quan on Tuesday, chamber President Joe Haraburda said the city's response to the call for a strike has created more confusion.

"Your lack of clarity is putting our shared future in Oakland at risk," he wrote. "We want to be clear, should Wednesday's planned protests go awry, someone will need to be held accountable."

lee.romney@latimes.com

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