Scenes from a Strike 

Small-business owners block port to protest fuel costs, but cops have learned a trick or two since antiwar protests.

Last Tuesday on Middle Harbor Road at the Oakland port, hundreds of independent truckers crowded in front of the entrance to the APL shipping firm, hoping to slow other big rigs from moving off the berths. Inspired by the recent spike in fuel prices and a solid decade of flat payment for routes around California, the striking truckers were demanding a 30 percent wage increase from the company. They were hardly your typical band of union brothers. Since independent truckers all own a truck -- and some own as many as five or six -- this strike featured a group of small-business owners demanding more money from a group of bigger business owners. And the small-business owners were willing to clog the berth's parking lot with human bodies until they got their money.

Demonstrations at the port can turn into violent confrontations with the cops; just ask the antiwar protesters who were roughed up here more than a year ago. And in the case of the striking truckers, just one day earlier officers had arrested four truckers for throwing rocks at fellow drivers who blew past their picket line.

But on this Tuesday morning, the scene felt more like a lazy barbecue -- albeit one with agitated guests and no host. Even the cops looked bored as they sat in squad cars across the street, barely keeping an eye on the crowd. Three truckers sat in camping chairs next to a smoking grill, whistling at cars that drove along Middle Harbor Road. A toddlers' wading pool was filled with ice and stocked with cans of Pepsi, root beer, and Sunkist orange soda. One guy walked around with a bullhorn connected to a small amplifier. Like a kid, he seemed fascinated with the way the device distorted his voice. He dragged out random Spanish curse words for laughs. "Pinche puta," he'd say, apropos of nothing.

Whenever a truck rolled out of the yard across the street in implied opposition to the strikers' efforts, they rushed to the sidewalk, raised their middle fingers, and waved their homemade signs. "Culeros," they yelled, which loosely translates to "assholes." It was another thirty minutes before the next truck rolled out. Until then, the crowd went back to just milling about. Two guys got into a play fight, slapping at each other's heads and forearms.

Some excitement arrived in the form of a local Teamsters official wearing a blue baseball cap and a tweed coat. Hayward striker Raul Lopez, who owns three trucks, recalled the official telling the crowd, "We're here to support you." Lopez said these words were like a warm embrace to him and the other strikers who heard the Teamster speak.

One hour later, however, the short love affair ended, Lopez said. A line of six rigs from the Sea Line company loaded up and headed out of the gates in a convoy formation. Lopez recalled that one of the demonstrators yelled, "Those are Teamster drivers taking our jobs!" As the trucks sped off, a crowd gathered around the guy in the blue baseball cap, and shouted at him: "Traitor!" He had no response, Lopez said, other than to say, "I'm here supporting you."

A few hours later, little had changed, and the Teamster was still milling about amongst the strikers. "I'm surprised that Teamsters guy shows his face around here," Lopez said. "People were pissed."

Shortly thereafter, the cops made their presence felt. Earlier, one of the officers had pulled his squad car into the crowd and told the truckers that their cars were parked illegally along the street. If they didn't move them, he said, they'd all get tickets. No one had paid the cop much attention, but now he returned and used his car's loudspeaker to declare: "Move your cars or get a ticket. You must move your cars ... or ... get ... a ... ticket." A minute later, nine Oakland motorcycle cops sped into the crowd in a two-by-two formation, with one more at the tail. They parked their bikes in a long line and whipped out their parking-ticket books.

You'da thunk they had water cannons or wooden dowels. The protesters broke into a small frenzy, keys suddenly appearing from their pockets, jingling as they jogged to their Honda Accords and Toyota Tercels. Motorcycle cop Lt. Dave Kozicki stood at the center of the action. Maybe because he was much taller than all the picketers, he drew the truckers toward him like a beacon, until they surrounded him completely, shouting complaints.

Trucker Hernaldo Vanegas, the owner of five trucks, stood face-to-face with Kozicki, who said he'd been called out to disperse the crowd following complaints of rock throwing and vandalism. Vanegas didn't believe the cop's motives.

Vanegas: "I bet you're normally a smart, intellectual man."

Kozicki: "I am."

Vanegas: "Your boss told me I could park here."

Kozicki: "No, he didn't."

Vanegas: "Right now you're not making sense."

Kozicki: "You need to move your car unless you want a ticket."

Vanegas: "Why?"

Kozicki to the crowd, shouting: "Unless you want a ticket, move your cars."

Kozicki, back to Vanegas: "Because you're parked illegally."

Vanegas: "What do you mean? Don't you guys got something better to do?"

Kozicki: "You think I like doing this? Like being out here? You think the people of Oakland want all of us here instead of on the streets? We've got better things to do besides giving you guys tickets."

Vanegas: "But we didn't do anything."

Kozicki: "Yes you did! I saw you guys with my own two eyes yesterday. You threw rocks at trucks! Now I've got seven complaints today from people saying you're throwing rocks again."

Vanegas: "They're lying!"

Kozicki: "It's not the truck companies calling; it's regular people just driving by."

Vanegas: "We haven't thrown any rocks at anyone."

Kozicki: "We arrested four people yesterday. We don't want to arrest anyone else, okay?"

Vanegas: "Arrest us for what?"

Kozicki: (sigh)

Vanegas: "What are we supposed to do? Where are we supposed to park?"

Kozicki: "You need to park somewhere else and walk here."

Vanegas: "Where are we ... "

Kozicki: "Somewhere else ... "

Vanegas: "When you talk I listen! So listen to me when I talk!"

Kozicki: "Go ahead, please."

Vanegas: "Thank you. Listen. Now. I'm sure you're an intellectual man ..."

And so it went for another five minutes.

Meanwhile, police officers continued writing tickets and sliding the yellow envelopes beneath windshield wipers. When a crowd of Hispanic men crowded around an Asian motorcycle officer, the officer blared his siren and told them to back off. One of the men started gesticulating to the sound of the siren as if he were in a nightclub, causing his friends to laugh at the officer. The officer shooed his hand to make them back up, and when the men shooed their hands back and waved as they walked away, the officer said in a condescending tone, "Adios amigos."

"Fuck you," replied one of the Hispanic men. "You ain't mi amigo. Shit."

Back at Kozicki's motorcycle, the newly ticketed picketers surrounded him again, waving their parking tickets in his face.

"Don't give 'em to me," the officer said. "They're yours to keep."

Ultimately the tickets worked. Unlike bean bags shot from guns or flash bombs lobbed from twenty yards away, a string of $40 parking tickets had the power to disperse the crowd quickly and peacefully. So many picketers ran to their cars and made harried five-point turns that a small ball of traffic and the ensuing road rage was the closest thing to violence that seemed to occur on that day. Many drivers parked on the dirt shoulder on Middle Harbor Road and walked back. Others drove off altogether, gone for the day.

Officer Kozicki and Vanegas were still bickering, though, and Vanegas was still asking, "What are we supposed to do?"

The officer finally showed some exasperation, perhaps perturbed that he had to spell it out so completely.

"You know what you oughta do?" Kozicki said. "You oughta park on Adeline Street and then walk over here as one big group, just like the war protesters did. Okay?"

On Monday, port officials received a temporary restraining order against the protesters, and trucker representatives said they'd return to work for thirty days while negotiations continue.

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