We Called it a Work Holiday: The 1946 Oakland
General Strike

Flyer DistributionPresented by the Oakland Museum of California History Department
Exhibit Date: November 23, 1996 to February 23, 1997

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In 1996-97 the Oakland Museum of California presented We Called It A Work Holiday: The 1946 Oakland General Strike. The exhibit included a broad selection of photographs, memorabilia, audio and video footage, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the strike.

The exhibition was organized by History Department Photo Archivist Marcia Eymann, joined by consultants Charles Wollenberg, professor of history at Vista College, and Fred Glass, communications director for the California Federation of Teachers.

The exhibit places the general strike in the context of California's labor history and the business climate immediately after World War II.  The exhibition included more than 35 photographs taken during the strike, along with other artifacts such buttons and posters. The original exhibit also displayed recreations of a window of Kahn's department store, where the strike originated, a full-scale room in the exclusive Athens Club, where the city's wealthy business leaders congregated, and a parade float from an election rally that followed the cessation of the strike. Fred Glass, Director of Communications at the California Federation of Teachers and consultant to the museum, created a seven-minute video that captures the very rare film footage of the strike.

The Strike in Context

Joe KnowlandEvents leading to the General Strike began in the fall of 1946. Confronted by strong resistance on the part of Oakland's retail merchants to unionization at Hastings and Kahn's department stores, 400 Hastings and Kahn’s employees walked out in late October. In early December, the strike intensified when management, with support from city government and business leaders, brought in the police to remove pickets and escort strike-breaking deliveries. At that point, American Federation of Labor unions in Alameda County voted to strike in solidarity with the clerks. On December 3, 1946, 100,000 workers from 142 AFL unions representing all types of worker, declared a "work holiday" and walked off their jobs.

City and union leaders reached a compromise agreement, which restored workers to their jobs on December 5. In the wake of the general strike, populist politics in Oakland experienced an uptick in energy and popularity, and eventually elected four labor-sponsored candidates to the city council.

Motorcycle Blockade Scope of Online Collection

48 photographs, which were mounted on masonite, were donated by the Museum to the Alameda Central Labor Council at a later date. When the council relocated its administrative offices, the panels were donated to the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Library. For many years, community groups would borrow the panels and hang them at fundraising event s and other festive occasions. Concerned for their safety, the Library created this online collection to ensure that it would have a long-term future and not fall prey to damage or decay. The digitization projected was supported was supported by the University of California Labor and Employment Research Fund.

The images are displayed in the approximate order in which they were displayed physically at the Oakland Museum of California.

The original exhibit was funded by the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, the California Federation of Teachers, and the Central Labor Council of Alameda County and its affiliated unions.

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