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