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
In reaction to the police strikebreaking a meeting of the County Central Labour Council was called and the delegates voted to confront the County Board of Supervisors and local city councils and threaten a general strike if the police brutality did not stop at once. This met with the usual run-around from the politicians who promised to ‘study’ the matter. While they were still studying, a couple of union pickets were arrested at the Standard refinery for allegedly throwing rocks at a scab truck (they were charged with violation of an obscure ‘felony rockthrowing’ which carries a mandatory one-year sentence). When Jake Jacobs, Secretary-Treasurer of the union local went down to bail the men out, he was stomped on and arrested by five of Richmond’s finest.
A few days later Jacobs told the Richmond City Councilmen: ‘I know there may be some honest and fair-minded cops on the Richmond police force, but those five who beat me up unnecessarily deserve to be called just what I hear other people calling the police these days: Pigs!’ Earlier, Jacobs told these startled flunkies of Standard Oil, ‘Many of us heard about the gestapo tactics in Chicago and other places, and we didn’t believe it. But now we do.’ And he added that, as a result of the support from students, he and other oil workers ‘used to think that we disagreed with the students’ philosophy, but now we’re not so sure. But we do admire their courage’. A few days later, at a weekly union meeting, Jacobs said, ‘I think a lot of us didn’t support them over there (at San Francisco State) because we believed what we read in the newspapers. Now we know what kind of coverage we have been getting from the press, and I think we should be finding out what’s happening from the people actually involved and we should be supporting them, just like they have supported us’.