A podcast about history

That's not stuck in the past


In 1946, a few hundred department store employees, mostly women, walked off the job and started a picket line in downtown Oakland. Within a few weeks, more than 100,000 workers joined them, filling the streets with protesters who danced under holiday wreaths hanging from lampposts. “This seemingly small action turned into the biggest challenge to corporate domination of American workers in the postwar years,” according to Erik Loomis, author of “A History of America in Ten Strikes.” 

Despite an unprecedented outpouring of support, the story of those department store workers turned out to be a cautionary tale, rather than a triumph, for workers seeking to unionize. In the backlash that followed the strike, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, legislation that continues to hobble labor organizing to this day. 

Featuring interviews with Erik Loomis, labor historian Gifford Hartman, and archival recordings of workers who participated in the 1946 uprising, this episode explores why Oakland was the site of “America’s last great general strike” – and the connections between this 74-year-old conflict and the struggles of today’s “gig economy” workers.

Listen here: Apple / SoundCloud / Spotify.

On December 1, 1946, streetcars backed up along Telegraph Ave. after their drivers halted traffic in solidarity with striking workers. Police officers can be seen escorting “scab” trucks delivering goods to downtown department stores. [Image via Libcom.org]
In a 2006 Laborfest interview, strike participant Eve Schaaf said, “I’ve never seen a group of people so united and determined to win. We all felt confident and strong. It was an experience I’ll never forget.” [Photo credit: Oakland Museum of California]
“We had cordoned off downtown, maybe twenty blocks. There was a desire to do the right thing by everybody. There was no rousting anybody, or anybody stealing gas from other people’s cars, or breaking in. So far as we could tell, those 54 hours were crimeless downtown.” –Strike participant Stan Weir [Photo credit: Oakland Museum of California]
The Oakland Tribune, which was published by the conservative Republican power broker Joseph Knowland, celebrates the strike’s collapse. To hear about why labor leader Dave Beck denounced the actions of Oakland workers, listen to the full podcast. To read more about the 1946 general strike, check out the Oakland Wiki.

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“It was like a carnival”

The betrayal of Oakland’s 1946 General Strike
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