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...Before the strike, the call for a city-wide walkout was not publicized in an even minimally adequate way. On the Saturday night before the Wednesday strike we had a march to the Oakland City Jail with a thousand people chanting anti-cop slogans. Two nights later I walked the length of Telegraph Avenue, one of Oakland’s main streets, from the center of downtown Oakland to the Berkeley border, a distance of several miles, and saw a total of less than two dozen handbills slapped up in a desultory manner, and these mostly along a short stretch in the semi-hipsterized/gentrified Temescal District. My guess is that this paucity of propaganda applied equally to other main thoroughfares as well. So, what’s that mean? A thousand people showed up for an entertaining, lightweight, low calorie episode of anti-pig posturing, but not one fiftieth of that number had the authentic dedication and commitment to form crews with paint brushes and buckets of wallpaper paste, or with tape guns, and cover the length of the main streets of Oakland with posters and flyers, with visible public propaganda calling attention to an action that had to strike most mainstream contemporary U.S. working people as a wholly unusual, exotic and foreign idea.

The main routes of the bus system AC Transit, major bus stops and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) could have and should have been used as a platform for the message in the form of mass postering and flyering. This did not happen in the build-up to the general strike. In the days leading up to Nov. 2nd, rank and file union members and low-level union bureaucrats came to meetings of the Occupy Oakland General Assembly. Many of these folks sincerely tried to get their unions involved in the build-up to the general strike. Some union locals generated pious statements devoid of any threat of action. Participation of unions in an effort like this is like asking the U.S. Department of Labor to organize a general strike. Unions are capitalist business organizations — they cannot be transformed into something other than this by combative members, or compelled to act as anything other than transmission belts from capital to labor that help adjust labor to the requirements of capital. Eighty years of repressive labor legislation have also tied capital’s labor brokerages at the ankles, wrists and elbows to capitalist legality and to the capitalist state. The fact that unions are sociologically made up of working class people doesn’t make them an expression of the class interests of their members, much less of the working class as a whole. The U.S. Army is for the most part made up of individuals who are sociologically working class in origin, but that doesn’t make the Army a “working class organization.”

Organizers at Occupy Oakland were probably and quite understandably overwhelmed by the task they had set for themselves in calling for a general strike, and they only had about six days to prepare for it and get the word out. Trying to get unions involved may have seemed like some kind of short cut into the world of the mainstream working class. It wasn’t. And it won’t be next time, either.

Today almost ninety percent of U.S. wage slaves aren’t members of labor unions. Among those who are union members, those who have any strong opinions at all about unions are as likely to have negative perceptions of “their” union as positive ones, and they may see “their” union as a wholly bureaucratic entity that steals dues from their pay and is either indifferent or actively hostile to their needs.

Any real future general strike has to do an end-run around unions. All future efforts of this sort will have to draw many energetic individuals to get the word out in a big way, using direct action methods, appealing to immediate needs, and do this with an uncompromising anti-capitalist message. This is no small task, and unions will do nothing to help us here.