Astrike, when it is not a token tactical ploy in ‘labour-management relations’, is in many ways like a miniature revolution. Struggle, instead of collaboration, is the order of the day. The old individualistic ways of solving, blunting, or avoiding contradictions and confrontations give way to collective ways of facing them and fighting. Private property—at least that of the company and its scabs—ceases to be sacred. ‘Law and order’ is understood to mean maintaining—by brutal force if necessary—the very status quo that you yourself are now opposing.
A whole new set of values and assumptions grows up around this new experience. Former ‘friends’ turn into bitter enemies. New allies appear and are sought out among the ranks of those who were formerly feared and often fought against.
This is what we have been learning with and from the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers (ocaw) who are striking at the Standard Oil Refinery here in Richmond. When the strike began, as part of a nationwide walk-out against the whole oil industry, it appeared to be a rather routine squabble that would be marked by nothing more than formal picketing and would be over within a few weeks.
The union demands—a 72 cent wage increase (over two years) plus increased retirement and medical benefits—gave no indication that this fight was likely to take on serious political dimensions.
This notion was shattered almost immediately when police, first at the Shell plant in nearby Martinez, and then in Richmond at the gigantic Standard refinery, beat, maced and arrested oil workers and their wives and kids on the picket line. Some credit for heightening the contradiction is due to students from sds who joined the picket line at Standard, helping to turn it from a harmless decoration to a real obstruction