Oakland Braces for 'Occupy' General Strike
OAKLAND -- From schools and downtown stores to the nation's fifth busiest port, Oakland is bracing for Wednesday's citywide general strike, a hastily planned and ambitious action called by Occupy protesters a day after police forcibly removed their City Hall encampment last week.
Occupy Oakland has since returned to Frank Ogawa Plaza, but the leaderless group is still asking workers and students in the city to take the day off to come downtown and protest economic inequality and corporate greed.
Major goals will be protesting at banks or corporations that refuse to shut down for the day, then marching in the evening to the Port of Oakland to try to shut down the night shift.
Some employees and businesses downtown, where the core activities are scheduled, intend to participate, while others plan to carry on as normal - hoping there won't be a resumption of last week's violent clashes between protesters and police.
"The entire world is tired of the greedy corporations controlling everything, and now is the time that people are doing something about it," rapper Boots Riley, an organizer of the strike day, said Monday. "All over the world, people are looking to Oakland."
While major labor unions in the city have voiced support, most workers cannot legally strike while under contract. But some said they plan to take the day off, participate during off hours or walk off the job spontaneously.
Rebecca Band, spokeswoman for the California Labor Federation, said union members will be participating in several ways, including a march to a Wells Fargo branch. They'll also be cooking from 4:30 to 8 p.m. for protesters.
Wells Fargo plans to "run our business on Wednesday the same way we run it any other day," said spokeswoman Holly Rockwell.
Occupy representatives said in a statement that they will hit the port to show "solidarity with longshore workers in their struggle against EGT in Longview, Wash." EGT is a grain exporter.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union local units, which do most of the work at the port, expressed support for the Occupy protest while noting they haven't authorized a strike. But if enough protesters gather outside the port, union workers could deem it a community picket line and refuse to cross it for their 7 p.m. shift, one spokesman said.
"There have been seven community picket lines honored by our workers since 1985, the most recent one being last year," said Stan Woods, spokesman for the ILWU. "But it has to be a serious picket line with a serious number of people with goals that don't conflict with labor."
Port to remain open
Marilyn Sandifur, a spokeswoman for the Port of Oakland, said there were no plans to alter operations. Port security is handled by a variety of local, state and federal agencies.
The Port of Oakland was the site of an infamous 2003 clash that saw police injure antiwar activists and port workers with wood and rubber bullets.
City offices will stay open, although City Administrator Deanna Santana said in a memo that employees can use vacation or other paid time off if they want to participate in the walkout.
Mayor Jean Quan's office said the city will provide alerts to merchants and was "not urging businesses to close on Wednesday. Instead, we advise that they use common-sense precautions."
Mixed views on council
Although City Council members all say they support the cause, they have mixed views about Wednesday's strike.
Councilwoman Jane Brunner said she will join in the demonstration. Councilwoman Nancy Nadel said she will support it.
"This is aimed at big corporations," Brunner said. "We're not taking care of the 99 percent, but the 1 percent."
Others aren't as enthusiastic.
Council President Larry Reid said the encampment and Wednesday's strike were having a "devastating" effect on the city's image with business.
"We've worked hard to get this city on sound footing, to get the kinds of retailers that other cities have in their urban core," Reid said. "This sends the message to those that may have had an interest that we as a city of Oakland will allow these kinds of activities to take place. Nobody is going to open up businesses in downtown Oakland."
Great Oakland, a nonprofit at Jack London Square that advocates for parents on school issues, will close in support of the protesters, said Sara Nuno, community organizer there.
"A day like this calls attention, and that's what it takes to build a movement," Nuno said.
At a deli near City Hall on Monday, manager Elaine Hong said she wasn't sure whether to close and will make a decision today.
"I support the message, but do you really want to walk off your job?" Hong asked. "It's hard enough to get a job as it is."
Teachers union won't picket
Steve Neat, secretary of the Oakland Education Association, which represents 2,700 school district teachers, nurses, counselors and psychologists, said the union has voted to support Wednesday's action but will not stage picket lines.
"We want teachers to take whatever action at their sites they feel comfortable with," Neat said.
Many teachers are putting in for a day of unpaid leave, but a district spokesman said there were no plans to shut down any schools.
Chronicle staff writer Carolyn Said contributed to this report.