In 1946, the largest general strike in U.S. history took place in Oakland. The strike effectively shut the city down for nearly three days (1946) Protestors surround a mail truck at the Oakland General Strike of 1946

The 1946 Oakland General Strike began as 425 mostly women employees working at two department stores, Kahn's and Hastings, went on strike for wage equality beginning in November 1946. Following WWII prices rose and the union wages employees had been earning during the war declined. All the striking workers were asking for was a union contract and improved, living wages. 1

Striking store clerks from Kahn's & Hastings (1946) The initial strikers were mostly women employees of Kahn's & Hastings

Within two months of the end of World War II, there were more than two million unemployed workers in the U.S., plus reduction of wages and overtime pay. General strikes were called across the country, with the largest ones in Rochester, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Oakland, California. 4

By the beginning of December, the stores' management and city elite had decided they'd had enough of the workers' campaign. Large numbers of police brought in professional strike breakers on the morning of December 3, 1946, who beat the striking employees (and pedestrians) and cleared the streets of Downtown Oakland. The police set up machine guns across from the stores and tow trucks removed all cars in the area. 2Herbert Beach was the mayor at the time.

Oakland's police chief, a representative of Hastings, members of the city council and Joseph R. Knowland, owner of the anti-labor Oakland Tribune, all stood by to watch. 3

Truck drivers, bus and streetcar operators and passengers, who witnessed the police and strike breakers, got off their vehicles and did not return. The city was filled with workers, they milled about the city’s core for several hours and then organized themselves. In total, over 130,000 workers went out on the general strike in support of the department store employees for the next 54 hours. This was at a time when the entire population of Oakland was a little more than 405,000.

The striking workers meet publicly at the fountain in Latham Square Oakland General Strike of 1946 called a "Work Holiday" by strikers

On the morning of December 5, 1946 the General Strike ended with the promise by the Oakland City Manager would not bring in any scabs. The women workers received no concessions on their demands from Kahn's or Hastings. 2

Following the strike, every incumbent official in the Oakland Teamsters Local 70 was voted out of office. 2

Passage of the Taft-Hartley Act later that year prevented labor unions from participating in general strikes.

Links and References

CC SA-BY Our Oakland

  1. Remembering the 1946 Oakland General Strike KALW News
  2. 1946: The Oakland general strike - Stan Weir

  3. The last Oakland general strike

  4. Oakland General Strike of 1946 - Oakland Museum of California