Members of the Occupy Boston movement, students from area colleges, and union workers march through downtown Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
As the name suggests, there’s a lot to like about Pleasanton. Located thirty miles southeast of Oakland, the upscale enclave is a perennial contender in “best” or “wealthiest” city competitions, and on a Saturday morning in February it’s easy to see why. The sun is shining, a nearby farmers’ market is bustling and tan people on bicycles worth more than many used cars are zooming past. Which makes the scene at one end of the quaint downtown—where a line of a dozen cops keep close watch on a boisterous crowd of union activists and Occupy Oakland members—all the more incongruous.
The out-of-towners are gathered to mark an anniversary. Two years earlier, management at the nearby Castlewood Country Club had locked out its workers after trying to slash healthcare benefits. “They told us they had a philosophical problem with paying family healthcare,” says Sarah Norr, an organizer with UNITE HERE Local 2850, which represents the workers. According to the union, the move would have resulted in a wage cut of 40 percent for many of the employees, particularly egregious at a club whose members reportedly pay up to $25,000 to join, along with a monthly fee of more than $600. (I was promised exact figures from a Castlewood spokesperson but never received them.)
Despite twice-daily pickets, an NLRB complaint against the club for unfair labor practices and the disruption of a large tournament last summer, Castlewood’s management has been unwilling to budge. So in January workers took their campaign to Occupy Oakland. After detailing a fight that seemed tailor-made for the movement—the wealthy versus the workers, amid a backdrop of palm trees and golf tees—Occupy voted unanimously to support the campaign. In Pleasanton, that support has added a noticeable jolt of energy and visibility to the fight, where at least 100 Occupy Oakland members have turned out, complete with a nine-person band and a satirical “Save the 1%” rally, with people dressed in suits carrying signs like Golfing Is a Human Right.
“Instead of looking above for solutions, we look to the people next to us,” Barucha Peller, an Occupy activist, tells the workers. “Therefore, the fight of Castlewood workers is also our fight, and gives us strength. All right, let’s shut it down!” When the large march reaches the country club, the deed has already been done: fearing disruption, the club has closed its doors for the day. It was enough to make a person believe one of the signs I noticed on the march: Labor + Occupy = Working Class Victory.
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Nothing, of course, is so simple—especially not in Oakland, where two port shutdowns have led to increasingly strained relations between Occupy Oakland and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Both shutdowns—on November 2 and December 12—were called by Occupy in solidarity with the ILWU’s fight against grain terminal operator EGT in Longview, Washington. The conflict began last year, when EGT brought in another union to work its $200 million terminal. This threatened the jurisdiction in the grain industry of the ILWU, whose master agreement covers 4,000 workers in the Pacific Northwest. If one company could defy the ILWU and chip away at the hard-won standards guaranteed by the agreement, others would almost certainly follow suit.
The ILWU leadership was mostly silent on Occupy’s first shutdown, but when Occupy upped the stakes with the December call to shut down all West Coast ports, International president Robert McEllrath made clear that he was less than pleased. “Support is one thing,” he wrote. “Organization from outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another.”