On this day in labor history, the year was 1946. That was the day a general strike erupted in Oakland, California.
Workers, mostly women, had been on strike for a month at two downtown department stores.
Teamsters honored their picket lines and refused to make deliveries. Infuriated owners of Hastings and Kahn’s demanded their merchandise and turned to the city for help.
On this day, police assembled early in the morning to clear the streets of picketers. They attacked strikers, forced them off the streets and set up a perimeter of machine guns to escort scab delivery trucks through.
One striker recalled, “I was black and blue for six months from their clubs.” Outraged truck drivers, bus drivers and streetcar operators all stopped, got out of their vehicles and joined the strikers, quickly filling downtown Oakland.
By the end of the day, the city was completely shut down. 142 AFL unions called for a labor holiday in support of the strikers and now 130,000 workers were on strike in solidarity.
UAW member Stan Weir recalled that it was the bus drivers, many just returned from the war, who led the strike. The streets that night had a carnival like atmosphere. War vets led a march to City Hall to demand the resignation of the Mayor and the City Council for their attempts to break the strike.
The general strike quickly forced the administration to stop the scabhearding. But local labor leaders were divided over what some considered a near insurrection and called the strike off 54 hours later.
The retail workers were left to fight on their own for another five months. But for a few days, workers got a taste of their own power.