Dick Meister: The Oakland General Strike

Pub date December 7, 2009
SectionBruce Blog

Within two days in December of 1946, a general strike all but shut down Alameda County. It is much less remembered than the San Francisco general strike but it was no less effective.

By Dick Meister

(Dick Meister is a former city editor of the Oakland Tribune, labor editor of the SF Chronicle and labor reporter on KQED-TV’s “Newsroom.”)

It was 7 a.m. on a cold, rainy day in the heart of downtown Oakland 63 years ago this month.

Dozens of strikers, picket signs held high, were gathered outside the Kahn’s and Hastings department stores on Broadway on that gloomy Sunday morning of December 1, 1946. Suddenly, some 200 Oakland and Berkeley police, many in riot gear, swept down the street. They roughly pushed aside pickets and pedestrians alike as they cleared the street and the surrounding eight square blocks. They set up machine guns across from Kahn’s while tow trucks moved in to snatch away any cars parked in the area.

Behind them came an armed guard of 16 motorcycle police and five squad cars.
The lead car carried Oakland Chief Robert Tracy and the strikers’ nemeses, Paul St. Sure, a representative of the employers who fiercely opposed their demand for union contracts, and Joseph R. Knowland, the virulently anti-labor newspaper publisher who controlled the local political establishment. That included the Oakland City Council, which had demanded that the police move against strikers.