Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Occupy Oakland takes to the streets

At the end of last month, I reposted Bay of Rage's report on Occupy Oakland as it appeared to be the most explicitly class conscious element of the Occupy movement. A significant part of this, aside from a willingness to resist the police, was the general strike call which - even in a symbolic way - tied the occupation to the wider class. Today, it was confirmed as more than mere symbolism.

Ahead of the strike, numbers at the camps grew exponentially overnight. Throughout the day there were several demonstrations in the downtown area, the largest several thousand strong and completely shutting off traffic. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that many businesses in downtown Oakland were closed due to the strike, and bank branches which tried to stay open were shut down by the sheer force of numbers from protesters. Grand Lake Theater was one of the venues which explicitly closed in support of the strike, whilst an estimated 5,000 people are expected to march on the port in order to shut it down.

Naturally, the coverage in the media has been limited and contradictory. The BBC has chosen not to cover the event at all, at the time of writing, whilst the Guardian is following it with a live blog. Local US media appears to be more honest - as evidenced by the Chronicle report above - whilst the Wall Street Journal chose to downplay the effects and the support.

What is heartening about the call, although an honest assessment shows that it take up has been far from universal, is that it represents much the same direction taken by anarcho-syndicalists in Spain. That is, the recognition of the need for class struggle is combined with a realisation that the working class have to take action for themselves rather than waiting on somebody else. In a sense, this is what has defined the entire Occupy movement - the sense that something needed to be done and that people couldn't wait on somebody else to take that action for them.

Of course there have been contradictions and tensions, and anarchists have been more fiercely critical on this point than many others. However this has never been undertaken in a dismissive manner, and members of the anarcho-syndicalist Workers Solidarity Alliance were among those publicly arguing for the shift towards general strikes. As I argued myself, "It is no good simply sniping from the sidelines and making ourselves as irrelevant as the leftists touting orthodoxy. But by the same token to be entirely uncritical in our support of the emerging movements is as opportunistic as the liberals looking to defuse any revolutionary potential that "Occupy" might have."

Thus we find ourselves in the situation where a prominent chapter (for lack of a better word) of the Occupy movement is engaged in a truly radical and militant action. A strike called by an open general assembly. An action taking place on the ground by force of numbers rather than being dictated from above. Our critical capacities are vital in any movement for social change, and they should go hand-in-hand with our political principles. But that doesn't stop us from realising that something truly remarkable is happening here.

Today, Occupy Oakland managed to cause considerable economic disruption. This wasn't by any stretch a general strike, but it demonstrates that the steps can be taken towards that goal. All solidarity to those taking action there today.