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UC on strike! Here's why, and how you can help

Student workers at three UC campuses are striking today, and six more will strike on Thursday. 

UC grad student union strikeThis strike is the culmination of almost a year of inconclusive bargaining between the UC administration and the roughly 12,000 grad student workers in UAW Local 2865, and six months without a contract. The grievances that have spurred the strike are specific to higher ed, but the general line of attack from UC is one that workers experience everywhere: unreasonable increases in workload, intimidation of employees who exercise their rights, and foot-dragging on contract negotiations.

The grad student union's press release lays out several of the myriad unfair labor practices they've been subjected to: "From threats to international student’s visa status who participate in union activity, to unlawful videoing, and calling legal strikes illegal, the UCs are taking every opportunitiy to try and intimidate its members."

Back in November, when UC student workers went on a one-day sympathy strike with service and health care workers, management did their best in the days prior to intimidate them against joining the strike, sending threatening emails (which often included outright lies, like claiming foreign students' work visas were at risk or that the strike itself was unlawful).

The class size TAs have had to manage has also exploded. Grad student worker Josh Brahinsky told the Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Over 100 person per TA (teaching assistant) just didn't exist a decade ago." Ever-increasing class size, itself another facet of the UC's slow self-immolation at the hands of its leaders, means that many TAs simply don't have the time to properly grade exams, review papers, teach, and advise students. Even though labor law clearly places class size in the realm of negotiability, UC representatives have repeatedly refused to put it on the bargaining table.

As a communiqué from a group of student strikers put it,

To exist, universities depend on the extraction of un- and underpaid labor from students and faculty, exploiting a population convinced of its special intelligence and competitive edge. Fear of imposture, of mere adequacy, is the coin of the academic realm. As minter of this coin, the university holds its subjects in a state of blind dependency: students compete for the attention of a shrinking pool of professionals (part-time instructors currently outnumber tenure-track faculty by a ration of four to one), while the latter scurry to commodify the drippings of a hive-mind on the brink of colony collapse. 

The strike itself should be impressive — 96% of members voted in favor. But just as important is the solidarity shown by other segments of the UC population and the larger community around them. On the union's strike FAQ, they listed out things we all can do to support the strike:

There are many ways to support the strike. You can:

A. Join the picket lines on Thursday. We will keep our facebook page updated with the location of pickets – https://www.facebook.com/UCLAStudentUnion

B. Send out the link to this blog and forward other strike-related emails from the union and fellow members to everybody you think should be participating

C. Sign our strike pledge and encourage others to do so – http://uawstrikeucla.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/pledge-to-support-the-strike/

D. Attend whatever meetings are scheduled in the lead-up to the strike, again by staying appraised at our facebook page.

UPDATE 12:50PM EDT: At least 20 people have been arrested at UC Santa Cruz, mostly undergraduate students. Students were picketing the campus' west entrance, when cops in riot gear (seriously?) arrived and arrested them when they refused to stop picketing.

UC Santa Cruz strike arrests

Janet Napolitano: a militarized president for a militarized university

The Department of Homeland Security is a cabinet-level department with a budget in the tens of billions of dollars, and fills the role of the Defense Department's domestic counterpart: while DoD sends tanks and guns to Baghdad, Kabul, Tel Aviv, and Seoul, DHS sends tanks and guns to Detroit, Chicago, Washington DC, and Los Angeles. One of DHS' primary roles is the militarization of police departments across the country, through a combination of terrorism-related training programs and cheap military surplus hardware (everything from high-powered rifles to armored personnel carriers and tanks).

This militarization has resulted in more deaths and injuries at the hands of police as response to crimes and disturbances escalates dramatically. It has also meant a windfall for defense contractors as they expand their range of domestic offerings, including unmanned aerial drones.

Today we learned that current Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will be tapped as the new President of the University of California system. In many ways, the UC red carpet has long been rolled out for her: the militarization of campuses against their own students (which has reached a new crescendo since OccupyCA, OWS, and the infamous pepper-spraying incident at UC Davis) the expansion of government and military contracts, and the ever-growing size of the administrative bureaucracy means that she'll likely find her new digs pretty familiar. As the LA Times put it:

Napolitano’s nomination by a committee of UC regents came after a secretive process that insiders said focused on her early as a high-profile, although untraditional, candidate who has led large public agencies and shown a strong interest in improving education.

UC officials believe that her Cabinet experiences –- which include helping to lead responses to hurricanes and tornadoes and overseeing some anti-terrorism measures -- will help UC administer its federal energy and nuclear weapons labs and aid its federally funded research in medicine and other areas.

What the Times doesn't mention is that some of those federal agency dollars are coming right from DHS itself.

We can't glean much about Napolitano's educational priorities beyond her tenure as governor of Arizona from 2003-2009.

During her time as governor, tuition at ASU went up 58%, much higher than the average 4-year public university's increase of 19% over that same period. (That being said, once Secretary of State Jan Brewer took over after Napolitano's DHS apppointment, tuition increases only got worse.)

While her appointments to the Arizona Board of Regents include the first Native American to the Board (LuAnn Leonard), they also include Dennis Deconcini and Anne Mariucci. Deconcini is a high-powered lobbyist, whose firm has the distinction (aside from representing such good citizens as Monsanto, Eli-Lilly, Pfizer, and the MPAA) of owning the domain LobbyCongress.com. Mariucci was head of Del Webb Corporation, a giant firm that builds retirement homes across the country, and later got into the private equity business. In 2011 she joined the Board of Directors of the Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, naturally, has spent millions lobbying DHS.

As Democratic governor in a state with a solidly Republican legislature and little worry about having to sign actual progressive legislation, Napolitano certainly talked a decent game. In 2008 she said she wanted to freeze tuition for in-state students, and guarantee a free ride to any Arizona student with at least a B average through high school (and a clean disciplinary record — problematic due to the racist and abelist discipline systems in most public high schools).

While Mark Yudof's tenure as current UC President is thankfully very nearly over, Napolitano's selection reinforces how tough the road ahead will be for student organizers. Her selection is in some ways a defensive response by the Regents against the pressures they face, both from Sacramento and from the very people who make up the University of California — the students, faculty, and staff. If she can manage to on the one hand get the legislature to widen the gates of privatization, and on the other squash insurgent activism on UC campuses, it will be a dream come true for the Regents. Thankfully, there are plenty of committed and organized Californians who stand in their way.

EDIT: Updated to reflect her position as President, not Chancellor. Thanks katminka!

When Reactionary Talking Points are Conventional Wisdom: UC Crisis Edition

Nina Houts, writing for the Oakland Tribune, agrees with the purpose of the UC strikes and occupations but disagrees with their methods.

However, the manner in which these protests were carried out was utterly counterproductive to their cause. I'm sure it started out tame enough: crowded rallies and marchers with picket signs called attention to the issue, and students' contempt was conveyed. But then behavior escalated to more extremes, such as students cutting class, opting to lie in the streets or form human barricades outside of UC Board of Regents meetings, which was the case on Nov. 19. I think this type of "fight for education" was a complete waste of time, effort, and money.

Houts, who is a home-schooled high school senior, is learning quite quickly how to adopt the handwringing liberal style so prevalent in traditional media when people use tactics that actually have a chance of winning. The tendency which Houts is channeling prefers dissent to be polite and dignified - and it's hilariously telling that the very methods of dissent she is okay with are the ones she calls "tame." Such a preference comes from one of two possible mindsets. One is naive: the belief that public officials and other elites are doing what they think is best for all of us, and simply need to be convinced of our position in order for them to do the right thing (therefore the ideal mode of dissent for them is the strongly-worded petition). The second mindset is that of those who don't want to see the protesters win: their opposition to the demands is cloaked in concern trolling, worrying about protesters being "irresponsible," or "hurting their own cause." Their goal is to limit the spectrum of dissent to entirely harmless tactics.

From the age of this particular writer, I'm going to guess she falls into the first camp. Hopefully once she gets a taste of actual campus activism, she'll see the futility of playing by the rules of those in power. As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded his white liberal colleagues who were worried about tactics that were "extreme":

"Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored."

Houts isn't a big fan of that kind of tension. She continues,

Who actually thought it was a good idea to skip classes in protest and/or occupy buildings to prevent professors from teaching their courses? Doesn't that just further inhibit everyone's opportunities to learn? It's unbelievable to me that so many students assumed that skipping out on classes in favor of holding destructive protests in the middle of a semester would perpetuate the idea that they care very much about their education.

One could just as easily move that argument over to the workplace. "Why would employees stop working if they wanted better conditions and wages? Doesn't that inhibit everyone's opportunity to go to work? Seems silly that people keeping everyone outside their workplace actually care about what goes on inside their workplace."

Then she pulls out the "responsibility" card:

It seems that school officials would be even less inclined to give in to student protests when trash is dumped in front of a chancellor's office and lecture halls are subjected to damage after a protest lock-in — it's a huge waste of resources. The lemming effect that came out of these protests made the whole ordeal unquestionably futile. A much better message would have been sent if the student protesters actually took responsibility for their actions.

No, it's not the exorbitant salaries and perks of the ever-enlargening Administration that's a huge waste of resources, nor the large chunks of the budget tied down into siloed (no pun intended) defense industry accounts, it's the exaggerated cost estimates of student actions that should be condemned. Then she repeats the claim that administrators are just poor public servants, tasked with a difficult decision, and that the students are immature for thinking that there's any other way:

It comes across as insensible for these students to actually believe that in this time of financial crisis, they would be exempt from the repercussions of a depleted state budget. While it is unfortunate that the UC schools will have to deal with such a drastic blow to the system, the reasons for doing so are valid. Students should begin turning away from griping and "radical" movements, and begin dealing with the issue a little more proactively. The thousands of dollars worth of campus damage is going to have to be paid off somehow, and all that money is going to come straight from a share of tuition that could be better spent on other things.

If Houts dug a little deeper into the UC crisis, she'd find a very different portrait of the UC top brass and their real priorities. On a side note, I wonder why she put radical in quotes. The radical student movement in the UC system is actually radical, not pretend-radical or faux-radical. She finishes up with the classic "be happy with what you have, because it could be worse" line:

The resources that have been put into controlling these reckless student protests will have to be compensated, and the state and UC board are left with very few options. A word of advice to you radical student protesters: This is your education on the line. Go to class, embrace that you are receiving a higher education at the cost and sacrifice of your family and government, and maybe even do some extended research on solving the California budget crisis. After all, we are the educated, proactive future generation — right?

I don't mean to pick on Houts specifically, and I am very happy to see a teen getting column inches in the traditional press. But her opinion piece is a phenomenal example of all the ill-informed assumptions and elitist talking points surrounding both the UC crisis and student movements in general wrapped into one convenient article. It's also worth pointing out how easy this op-ed must have been for her to write. It relies exclusively on conceptual frames that have been hammered into our brains by reactionaries for at least a hundred years: assumptions about the nature of those in power, the nature of those seeking change, and the best ways to go about making change. She didn't need any facts or references to create this piece.

Use Houts' essay to develop effective and compelling fact-based counter-arguments, because when talking to anyone outside the student movement (say, your family over the holidays), you're bound to come up against at least one or two of the arguments she has put forth. Hopefully they'll be using these arguments out of well-intentioned naivete, which will give you the opportunity to convince one more person to stand with students who are taking action to push the university forward.

Interview with an Occupier: A Closer Look at the UC Santa Cruz Occupation

University of California Santa Cruz Occupation

Also published at WireTap.

On the morning of September 24, students across the University of California's ten campuses awoke to their first class of the school year: an object lesson in labor and student resistance.

That day, thousands of faculty, students and staff joined to protest the massive budget cuts to the state's university system -- and to protest the complicity of the university's administrations and the Board of Regents.

California is facing a budget shortfall measuring in the tens of billions of dollars over the next several years. As a result of the unique legislative hurdles required to pass a budget (it requires two-thirds majority, which neither party has), no decisive action has been taken to close the fiscal gap. On July 24, as teachers and students were away from campus for the summer, Sacramento passed a budget that included $8.1 billion in education cuts.

Soon after, the University of California announced that tuition and fees for in-state students would increase more than 30 percent over the next year, coming on the heels of a previous 9.3 percent hike announced in May. Hundreds of university employees are being laid off with most remaining employees subject to furloughs. Faculty and staff unions, who saw the cuts looming well in advance, organized in opposition, calling for a walkout on the first day of classes.

Protesters' tactics vary by campus -- UC Berkeley saw thousands march through the streets, picketing, blocking intersections and holding teach-ins on the crisis and ways to reform the university; UC Davis saw support staff unions honoring picket lines and students briefly occupied the administration building; UCLA's protesters marched to and then occupied the chancellor's office, holding signs proclaiming "freeze our fees," "stop the privatization of our public UC" and "stop the layoffs, layoff Yudof" (referring to Mark Yudof, the president of the University of California system).

While building occupations were attempted on several campuses, only one of them -- the occupied Graduate Student Commons building at UC Santa Cruz -- is still ongoing. I had a chance to talk with one of the occupiers over the phone Friday morning (name withheld at their request).

For Student Power: How many UC system campuses have occupations right now?

UCSC Occupier: We believe we're the only one -- Berkeley attempted one and it was rapidly shut down. They were sabotaged by various liberal student government types, who let the cops in.

Over all, here, it's great! It's going amazingly smoothly, and it's in an optimal location. This building is in the only central location on campus, so we're really using it to propagandize a lot.

Actually, there was this spontaneous dance party that erupted down in the area below last night. A ton of freshmen came out of their dorms and partied with us on their first night on campus. So we think we're going to be using the space really effectively. So far the police haven't been too bothersome -- we got through the night without incident.

FSP: What's the primary function of that building?

UCSCO: It's a commons area for graduate students -- there are some offices and conferences are scheduled here, so we're interrupting those. But here we have access to the internet, computers, a printer -- even a coffee machine.

FSP: What are the students doing right now?

UCSCO: Some of us are milling around; we have a lot of literature that we drew up in the early stages, and I think we'll continue to draft some things. We're having meetings, talking about how we're going to expand this to different buildings and campuses. We're in contact with the Berkeley people and they may try something again.

FSP: What's the organizational impetus behind the whole walkout? When I see the headlines, it looks amazingly well-coordinated among students, faculty and staff.

UCSCO: For the occupations, specifically, there [were] a couple of meetings about something like this at the end of the spring quarter which fell through over the summer. The situation with the system-wide governance became a lot more pitched, and the faculty led the way and decided to schedule a walkout for the first day of school. The faculty were being forced to take furloughs, so they voted unanimously to hold those on instruction days. The Regents chose to ignore this and granted President Yudof emergency powers to get around that dissent and bypass any shared governance with faculty.

About 1,200 faculty system-wide signed up to walk out. On the same day, one of the service worker unions, UPTE, called for sympathy strikes, as did the clerical workers union. From the faculty's lead, then graduate students and undergraduates started organizing over the summer.

Some of us have been involved with the more "above ground" meetings, but the occupation was not actually planned by or with the strikers.

FSP: Tell me about the students occupying the building right now.

UCSCO: There are over 30 inside -- comprised of students, graduate students, some lecturers and a few staff and alumni.

FSP: Occupations more than anything hearken back to their predecessors in the late '60s and early '70s. Is there discussion on where this fits in historically?

UCSCO: Yes, it's been discussed, but some of us took issue with that comparison, because we're situating this specifically at what we consider to be a turning point in the history of capital. The '60s were a completely different period and they had to deal with different material conditions. We're focused on a very different horizon than those in the '60s. We are, of course, still drawing on that history; we're also drawing inspiration from the Chicago Windows and Doors occupation, and the recent occupations of the New School, NYU and University of Vermont.

FSP: Does UC Santa Cruz have a strong history of activism on campus, relative to other UC campuses? Have there been building occupations at UCSC in recent (or not-so-recent) history?

UCSCO: Santa Cruz does have a fairly strong history of activism relative to other UC campuses. David Horowitz thinks we're one of the worst in the nation, so that's something. Our anti-military recruitment campaign a few years back got us on the FBI's Terrorist Watch list; as far as occupations go, we're not really sure. There was a tree-sit two years ago where small buildings were constructed in trees, but beyond that, I think this is unprecedented.

FSP: How are decisions made among the occupiers?

UCSCO: We have really long meetings [laughs]. There isn't much of an organizational structure, honestly; we don't have a name or anything. It's just people who share concerns and share this tactic. In the run-up to this, we did have several meetings. We actually switched the location at the last minute. We decide by majority vote.

One of the things we didn't decide were demands, because this is a demandless occupation. We're pretty cognizant of the absurdity of issuing demands to people whose agency we don't believe in, as either causing this crisis, or being able to get us out.

So we're using this to make an appeal to all students and Californians to take this occupation further.

FSP: Do you think that having a demandless ocupation, one without even "transitional demands," may cost you some support from the population at-large?

UCSCO: We may lose some support, yes, but the impact on campus thus far has actually been so bemused in general that I'm not even sure they're aware that it's demandless. We'll see how it plays out from here.

FSP: You were saying how the Berkeley occupation was sabotaged by their erstwhile center-left allies. How are you arrayed ideologically inside the occupation? Are most folks self-described radicals, or is it a larger swath of the student population?

UCSCO: Actually, some people unaffiliated with us spontaneously tried to occupy another building on campus once they had heard about us; that was shut down very quickly, but some of them jumped over the railing and joined us. Some freshmen, whose very first day of college this was, who I don't think had a very strong political identity yet, jumped in and joined us. But yeah, there are some radicals here, but we're not all hard-line anarcho-primitivists or anything.

FSP: Are you seeing the protesting and occupying students shift in terms of demands and understanding of the situation? The walkouts started as a reaction to budget cuts, but do you get a sense that folks are widening the scope of their criticisms to more systemic causes?

UCSCO: The students organizing things are certainly widening their scope. Many of the people here on the inside I met last year in a relatively reactive, reformist-minded group which went nowhere; they’ve since begun, publicly at least, to issue these more systemic criticisms. The budget cuts do have terrifying, material effects for certain people, though, and therefore are obviously more interested in entering into negotiations when their livelihood is directly on the line, but its also becoming more apparent that the same pretexts for cuts are brought up again and again. We're looking at a solid decade of state fiscal emergencies, so hopefully people will begin to see what we're seeing.

FSP: I think a lot of students would love to know the play-by-play of how exactly you took the building.

UCSCO: We were a little worried about how we were going to deal with the workers who were going to be here. Thankfully, we found out the night before that the clerical workers union who would be staffing this building called a strike as well, so we expected that nobody was going to be here.

There was one woman, who I guess wasn't respecting the strike, and she was in her office. So we came in, and we were like "Uh, we have a study group meeting!" She was kind to us at first, but then she started getting suspicious.

Meanwhile, there was a rally and a general assembly being held at the base of the hill we're on, so we coordinated with people down there to try and turn it into a march to bring them up here. As we got word that there were 100 to 150 people coming up the drive, we had to put things in place, so we sent some people to talk to the secretary and she left the building. We then had blocks and tables and everything in place -- we started at 4:30 and had it locked down by 5:00.

FSP: If occupations don't spread, what's the end game?

UCSCO: If they don't spread immediately? That's a topic for discussion this morning, actually [laughs]. Worst case scenario, we walk out of here; we've demonstrated that occupation is on the table as a tactic that people can use. And we'll continue organizing, and trying actions like this in the future.

FSP: What's your best-case scenario?

UCSCO: Starting with the UC system, we get occupations going on every campus and we shut it down -- we demonstrate to them that they are running it in such a way that it cannot function, and that we will not allow it to function. Best case, of course, is occupations in every school and workplace -- students and workers stopping the theft by our own elected representatives. They're stealing from what is held in public, so the best-case end game is widespread occupation to stop this theft.

FSP: Your occupation has gotten statements of support from students and activist groups from all over. Is there anything you'd like to say to students across the country, who may be looking to the UC system walkout and this occupation as a source of inspiration?

UCSCO: Do it yourself -- occupy a building on your campus. The time for sitting at a table with negotiators, trying to figure out a more equitable way to, you know, cut off your left arm versus your right arm, has passed. We see no more point in petitioning, or requesting meetings with administrators. They can't give us anything; they've made that abundantly clear, at the very least in California. Time is past due to occupy and take your own spaces back for yourselves.

UCLA Student Workers Fight for Unionization

According to The Daily Bruin, UCLA student workers are staging demonstrations to force the UCLA administration to recognize their union rights. The students cite that they do the same kind of work that other employees do, but without the benefits or job protection that the unionized school workers get.

Specifically, the students are employees of "Associated Students UCLA," a non-profit that operates places like cafeterias, book & gift shops, and also covers licensing of official UCLA merchandise.

Students Disrupt UC Regents Meeting Over Nuke Plans

BREAKING: This morning, as the University of California Board of Regents assembled to meet, dozens of student activists stood up in the meeting hall to protest UC's participation in nuclear weapons development and testing. The police were called and ordered the students out, and most students complied. Shouting "UC, nuclear free," the remaining protesters had to be physically dragged from the hall by police. Among the protesters were several of the hunger strikers FSP reported on previously.

UC Students Hunger Strike Against Nukes

Starting May 9th, students will begin hunger striking against the planned construction of a new Hydrogen Bomb -- which would be the first new nuclear bomb built since the end of the Cold War -- using University of California researchers and resources. In fact, the UC system has had a hand in the production of every nuclear bomb the U.S.

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