What’s Next in the Struggle for Oscar Grant?

The outcome of the verdict for Johannes Mehserly, the cop who murdered Oscar Grant, left people with feelings of outrage, disappointment, and defeat, and rightfully so. We live in a world where police can kill innocent and un-armed people, have it captured on video, and still get off. The fact that Mehserle was convicted at all should be seen as a partial victory for the black working-class of Oakland. That victory was largely due to the black and brown Oakland youth who took the streets, and made the system listen to them as they bashed in windows of banks, corporations, and other sources that profit off of the exploitation and murder of black and brown people. When the day of the verdict finally arrived on July 8th we found ourselves in a similar place: angry in the streets with no real outlet to fight back. Our options were dismal, chaotic rioting on one end, and non-profit sponsored apolitical, non-violent speak-outs on the other end. Im not against rioting or community expression, but none of these options represent a concrete and effective way for people to resist, a way to flex their power as people and workers, while simultaneously striking back against the bourgeois state that relies on the police to repress our resistance through murder and incarceration

The day of the sentencing is November 5th, which is three months away. People are still angry and we have plenty of time to do something about it, but what? We have tried a variety of tactics from symbolic rallies and marches to riots/rebellions, and nothing has managed to bring justice for Oscar Grant, and the Black working-class yet. It’s time to try something different. A huge jumping off point for this is the recent involvement of the Longshoremen who are a part of the ILWU local 10. So far the Oscar Grant struggle has been organized mainly by activists, and community members with no involvement by organized labor. The longshoremen have a reputation of being one of the more militant unions. They have shut down the coast numerous times for political reasons: apartheid in South Africa, Mumia, and most recently for Palestine. The longshoremen also have majority Black membership, and their reps have experienced state violence on the job and during actions. All these things have fueled their own interest to get involved in the Oscar Grant struggle. They recently had a meeting, which they opened up to the public, to discuss the planning of a protest on Saturday October 23rd, where two major outreach committees were created to try to mobilize the community and other sectors of labor. This demonstration has the ability to bring in 1000’s of workers and community members if the organizers build it right.

So you are probably wondering how this demonstration is different from any other symbolic protest. It will be another permitted, Saturday afternoon action that probably won’t change a thing. There is some truth to that, but this demonstration is deeper than it seems initially. First of all there is potential to shut down the ports that day, because the Longshoremen work Saturdays. If the ILWU is able to mobilize all their members and locals to the demonstration that day, then there will be a work-stoppage, and that is significant in its own right. Politically this demonstration represents an opportunity for us to bring in people from different struggles and sectors of labor and the community. The most active struggles right now have been for Oscar Grant, Immigrant Rights and the Budget Cuts. All of these struggles have been disconnected from each other in key ways, which has been a huge weakness of the organizers in these struggles, because not only are we stronger when we are united, but these struggles are organically connected. They all share the same enemy: the racist, sexist capitalist system.

When black and brown youth walked-out to protest the budget cuts during March 4th this past year they made that connection. They weren’t just talking about budget cuts and their schools; they were talking about police and incarceration. They understand that when 90% of the Oakland bailout budget goes to killer cops and not schools that the budget cut movement should be a part of the Oscar Grant movement. Did I mention that 90% of the bailout money went to OPD? Why aren’t we making these connections? When Arizona passed the racist, anti-immigrant law SB 1070 Oakland youth took the streets again walking-out on April 30th, a friday, to protest a system that oppresses the black and brown working-class. At the bottom of all three of these struggles is the violence of the state, both direct and structural, being aimed at working-class communities of color.

With organized labor being at such a low level in this country it is a qualitative advancement in the Oscar Grant struggle to have the ILWU get involved. It also moves us closer to making these connections between the struggles so we are stronger and more united as a class. We need to reach out to other sectors of labor to have them turn out as well. AC transit workers in Oakland are already upset over their contracts and there has been “labor unrest”–workers even directly intervened in the work process by ‘sicking out’ in large groups; the Oakland teachers union, OEA, went on strike April 29th and most likely will go on strike again this fall; high school students have walked out twice; immigrant communities have protested in SF and in Oakland for May 1st and again against the implementation of SB 1070; MUNI drivers in SF are upset over their contracts while the city tries to pit drivers (who, it should be noted, make significantly less than SF pigs) and riders against each other. There is huge potential to have a mass convergence of organized and un-organized labor, youth, activists, and community members to come out on October 23rd to protest a system that takes money out of our schools and into a racist police system that criminalizes and murders immigrants and black people; to protest a system that continually exploits and doesn’t take care of its workers who drive buses, BART, clean up our streets, our businesses, and teach our children. Not only would this be a day where we can all get together and share our struggles, but it will also be an important day to help build up November 5th.

Due to the work of hundreds of in the Bay Area, the underlying unity of these struggles is starting to take shape explicitly. We know October 23rd is not enough. We know that no conviction or sentence for Mehserle would represent true justice while the racist violence of the state continues to terrorize black and brown communities. We know that we have little chance at dignity and justice in a world with few opportunities and intensifying austerity. We also know that by coming together in the thousands to take direct control of our city, we have a real chance to go beyond partial victories, to fight back effectively against the budget cuts and pigs of all kinds, against the violence of the state in all its forms. This Fall, no struggle needs to stand alone. Justice–November 5th.

5 responses to “What’s Next in the Struggle for Oscar Grant?

  1. Someone wrote:

    “The longshoremen have a reputation of being one of the more militant unions. They have shut down the coast numerous times for political reasons: apartheid in South Africa, Mumia, and most recently for Palestine.”

    This must be put in context. They HAD a reputation of being militant by defending their victory (although by the decree of an arbitrator) in the 1934 San Francisco General Strike with further strikes in 1936 and 1948. But the last strike of the ILWU was in 1971 and ever since the union leadership has fully embraced the collective bargaining agreement as their means for struggle.

    The union also took a giant step backwards in the compromise of the Mechanization and Modernization Agreement of 1960 (which accelerated containerization, sending the port across the Bay to Oakland, and eventually reduced the longshoring workforce by nearly 90%).

    Also look up and read Stan Weir’s account of how Harry Bridges et al. betrayed 82, mostly black, “B” men in that deal and how subsequently the ILWU is only slightly less bureaucratic than other business unions.

    And yes, the rank-and-file took principled positions in refusing to load war materiel headed to El Salvador, refusing to handle ships from apartheid South Africa, as well as shutting the ports to protest in solidarity with Mumia. The rank-and-file also voted to invoke a contractual technicality to have a “work-stop” meeting for one shift on May Day 2008 — for 3 reasons: 1. celebrating international workers’ day; 2. demanding a stop to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; and 3. in solidarity with immigrant workers in the U.S.

    The claim that the rank-and-file stopped an Israeli ship in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is misleading. Pro-Palestinian activists set up a picket line with the intent of invoking an arbitrator to send the longshore workers home for “health and safety” reasons according to their contract. Which worked, but NOT based on any agency on the part of the workers.

    I was in ILWU Local 6 in the East Bay in the early 1990s. To me, the ILWU was a bureaucratic, top-down, extremely law-abiding union that was only slightly more militant than the rest. We were fed the “Bridges Myth” about its past heroism. What I saw instead were union piecards (union officials who worked neither on the shopfloor nor in the sector, but whose sole job was working for the union) who discouraged rank-and-file agitation or militancy on the shopfloor, but who took more “progressive” positions on social and geopolitical issues than any other union. My comrades and I were chastised for “pissing off the boss” and were encouraged to “let the [union] rep handle it.”

    Which created a strange paradox in that we were encouraged to support the liberation of workers on distant continents while being warned that fighting our boss directly would put us in harms way and invoke the wrath of the law (and the NLRB).

    Yet I see the possibility of involvement of the rank-and-file of the ILWU incredibly encouraging, especially since ports are among the most strategic chokepoints in the global circulation of commodities, and would love to see an indefinite wildcat strike at all 29 West Coast ports in support of the Oscar Grant struggle. It would be about time for longshore workers to live up to their reputation.

  2. Has there been any outreach to other West Coast ports so far?

  3. Pingback: Hot Autumn 2.0? « Third Reconstruction

  4. Not that I am aware of. They want some of us to go down to LA to do outreach to the local there, but I feel like that is a waste of resources when we have folks involved in the struggle down south. We have to connect the people we know to the ILWU there. Also we need to tap into folks we know in Portland and Seattle. We still have time, but the agitation needs to start now…Would be nice to see a west coast shut down…

  5. I’m sure many of you are aware that there has been another call for a statewide day of action for public education on October 7, similar to March 4. Maybe a coalition can be made between groups planning stuff for the 7th and groups planning for the 23rd. There is also some march on Washington on October 2nd. Maybe some energy from that can be harnessed for local actions on the 7th and 23rd.

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