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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

Chicago Strike Ends

 
The Great Chicago Teacher's Strike of 2012, after one week, is over. Or as the business press put it, "finally" over.

Via Reuters:

Chicago public school teachers voted on Tuesday to end their strike and resume classes in the third-largest U.S. school district, ending a confrontation with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that focused national attention on struggling urban schools.

Some 800 union delegates representing the 29,000 teachers and support staff in Chicago Public Schools voted overwhelmingly to resume classes on Wednesday after more than two hours of debate.

"I am so thrilled that people are going back," Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. "Everybody is looking forward to seeing their kids tomorrow."

Lewis, an outspoken former high school chemistry teacher, said the entire membership of the union will cast a formal vote in the next two weeks to ratify a new contract agreement.

The delegates ended the strike on their second attempt, having decided on Sunday to continue the walkout for two more days so they could review details of a proposed three-year contract with Emanuel.

Emanuel had to retreat from a proposal to introduce merit pay for teachers and he promised teachers that at least half of all new hires in the district would be from union members laid off by the closing of schools.

CTU has posted a handy summary guide to the biggest changes in the proposed contract. 

The way this strike ended must be considered a victory, at least these days. The idea of unionized employees going out on strike and not being beaten is so far off our cultural radar, even modest concessions from Chicago Public Schools is something worth shouting from the rooftops.

Especially notable was the fact that the teachers ended the strike on their own terms. They could have struck longer if they wanted to — at the very least until the votes were in from all teachers — but CTU's House of Delegates knew when to end on a high note. Majorities of both the Chicago public and Chicago parents supported the strike, and they were smart to keep it that way.

Rahm may have gotten his teacher evaluation system (or at least a small part of it), but CTU got a clear and unambiguous victory. And given what a victory means for all of us, in these dark days of reaction and austerity, Rahm and those like him just lost a hell of a lot more than they realize.

A union goes on strike, and doesn't get blown to smithereens, literally or figuratively?

I could get used to this.

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Thank Chicago Teachers!

Chicago teachers strike! Here are the facts, and why this is bigger than Chicago

Today, teachers across the Chicago Public Schools system are on strike: almost 30,000 staffers from almost 700 schools. After months of stalled negotiations with CPS bigwigs, the time came to take to the streets. (Check out this fascinating account of the CTU's House of Delegates meeting last month, at which they voted unanimously to authorize a strike.) At stake is not just whether our teachers will be paid fairly — which is itself very important — but it's also whether students will learn in the schools and classrooms they deserve. Just like last year's protests in Wisconsin weren't just about Wisconsin, teachers in Chicago are taking a stand for all teachers: the corporate assault on public education is taking place everywhere.

Chicago is also important politically and symbolically. It's the home turf of the White House's two biggest charter and standardized testing proponents: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama. Before Duncan took his post at the DOE, he was CEO (fitting title) of Chicago Public Schools, and led the charge in gutting local school board democracy and the imposition of unaccountable charter schools (in many cases carving out entire wings of public school buildings to be used by these charter groups). And, of course, the Mayor is Rahm Emanuel: the patron saint of the right-wing "Blue Dog Democrats" in Congress, and known for hurling verbal abuse at any progressive group that doesn't toe the official Democratic line.

Rahm's agenda is a familiar one for those who have been following where the billions in ed "reform" money have been flowing: privatize everything that isn't nailed down, and then privatize that stuff too. From parks to parking lots, and everything in between. 

The Chicago Teacher's Union has new leadership, just a few years old, that ran for election on an insurgent, rank-and-file oriented platform. With that new leadership came an increase in on- and off-work actions, including ongoing protests of the Mayor's agenda. And the strike has historically massive approval: almost 90% of all CTU members voted Yes for the strike. This comes as a particularly humorous blow to Jonah Edelman, who last year at the Aspen Institute bragged about how he crippled the CTU by (among other things) forcing them to accept a rule change that established 75% as the threshold for a strike. "The union cannot strike in Chicago," he said. "They will never be able to muster the 75 percent threshold needed to strike."

Oops.

Chicago Teachers on Strike!

Despite the overwhelming support for the strike among teachers, millions of dollars of anti-union money is already rolling, with the help of corporate newspaper, TV, and radio outlets. It's all the more important that we establish some basic facts about this particular fight. I'll be updating this list.

The Facts

Classroom size: the school district wants to remove the caps on classroom sizes from the contract. They say that the caps exist elsewhere, but that also means they could increase it without teacher input. Some teachers are reporting up to 42 students in a classroom. [Source] [Source]

Evaluations based on standardized tests: This fall is supposed to mark the beginning of teacher evaluations which take "student growth" into account, which is to say, their performance on standardized tests. Everyone who's looked at the data (or hell, taken a standardized test) can see what an irredeemably flawed system this is. [Source] [Source] 

Air conditioning in classrooms(!): Most Chicago school classrooms have no air conditioning, which makes teaching during summer months particularly painful, and makes the likelihood of actual learning going on practically zero. As one teacher puts it, "When you make me cram 30-50 kids in my classroom with no air conditioning so that temperatures hit 96 degrees, that hurts our kids." GOP claims aside, global climate change is only going to make things worse — Chicago just experienced its hottest summer on record. [Source] [Source]

Compensation: CPS offered only a 2% raise for the next four years (after Rahm nixed their scheduled 4% raise last year). Yesterday, CPS reportedly acceded to a 16% raise over four years, but I'm hearing conflicting rumors about this. [Source]

(Part of the problem with getting an accurate picture of contract issues is that negotiations are going on in private, so there isn't a working draft we can look at or analyze.)

But let's be clear: issues du jour aside, we should keep our eyes trained on the larger forces at work here. The education "reforms" that CPS and most politicians on the left and right are proposing are at the forefront of the attack on what remains of our public infrastructure. Eager to find ways to turn a profit on everything they see, the ultra-rich — from Wall Street bankers to Fortune 500 CEOs — have their eyes trained on public schools. I have issues with how traditional public schooling is set up, particularly in how they are run and managed, but the "reforms" being rammed down our throats only make those issues worse. A world where all public funds are funneled to private gains is their vision. Those of us who don't happen to have bank accounts in the Caymans or summer homes in the Hamptons would do well to consider ourselves as much a target of these attacks as the countless teachers who are struggling, both to stay in the middle class and provide their students with a decent education.

Things to do:


UPDATE: Check out this discussion at Democracy Now!, which looks at the Chicago strike in the context of Obama's larger ed reform crusade:

Québec's Student Strike: La Lutte Continue, but What Lessons Can We Learn?

Hundreds of thousands of students march in Montréal on May 22. Photo courtesy fatseth via Flickr.

Striking university students in Québec are well into their 15th week of continuous protests. Their strike, which began primarily in opposition to student debt and the proposed 75% tuition hike, has since expanded to encompass wider critiques of both the university system itself and larger issues of austerity and neoliberal economic reform.

Québec’s hardline conservative premier, Jean Charest, several days ago pushed through a series of draconian anti-free-speech laws aimed at breaking the strike. Penalties run in the tens of thousands of dollars and up to 10 years in jail for those participating in or even promoting unpermitted protest actions; and even for protest marches that have been approved by the police, the sponsoring organization will be held liable for any and all illegal actions taken at or near the march.

In a surprise to absolutely no one but Charest, these laws have not only rekindled student participation in the strike, but sparked an even greater outrage among the general population. This past Tuesday -- the hundredth day of the strike -- an astounding number of students and allies marched in Montreal. Estimates range from 300,000 to 500,000 participants, a historic number even for Québec’s activist past. Opinion polls similarly showed a huge 18 point increase in support for students and opposition to the government.

Coop média de Montréal has an excellent run-down of Ten Points Everyone Should Know About the Quebec Student Movement, which gives the best primer I’ve yet seen on what exactly is happening -- and why. You really need to go read that now. I’ll wait.

...Done? Great! Point #3, “The student strike was organized through democratic means and with democratic aims,” is something I’d like to develop a bit further here because it’s a crucial lesson our neighbors to the north have to teach us.

Student unions exist in almost every industrialized nation in the world (except for the United States, whose students are stuck with poor imitations usually called “student governments”), and they are charged with defending and advancing student interests, both on- and off-campus. Most of Québec’s student unions are very different from student unions in the rest of Anglophone Canada: they’re directly democratic, in a way anyone familiar with Occupy Wall Street will immediately recognize:

Among the Francophone schools in Quebec, the leaders are not only elected by the students, but decisions are made through general assemblies, debate and discussion, and through the votes of the actual constituents, the members of the student associations, not just the leaders.

This use of direct, deliberative democracy is a key reason why Québécois student strikes are without exception larger, last longer, and are more successful than those elsewhere in Canada. Because strike resolutions (which happen on every university campus, and in individual academic departments as well for larger schools) can only be passed when a majority of students approve:

  • Strikes rarely happen without considerable student support;
  • Students feel more personally invested in the success of the strike; and
  • Strikes hold more legitimacy in the eyes of the officials and the greater public than protests organized by a small group.

But separate from that, and possibly more important, is the transformative and prefigurativenature of the democratic process. Genuine, grassroots, participatory democracy is uniquely potent in wiping away the patina of legitimacy that coats elected politicians and the injunctions they decree. Student assemblies are held every week, and on some campuses every night, to determine local activities and often to decide whether to continue the strike. Many have moved even further than the official demands of the strike and are calling for a more democratically-run university (a truly dangerous demand for those in power).

There are relatively few Anglophone universities in Québec, and for the most part students have more culturally and socially in common with their counterparts in other provinces than the schools down the street from them. However, for the first time in history, the Anglophone student associations at Concordia and McGill have joined the strike, an act arriving on the heels of their recent adoption of democratic decision-making structures (instead of solely elected representatives).

The strike has also spread past what we in the U.S. would think of as the university. Québec’s education system has a third institution between high school and university -- the CEGEP, which is a two-year school combining our senior year of high school and our college freshman year. Most CEGEPs and high schools also have student unions, and many of the strike’s most dedicated and energetic organizers come from their ranks. Student organizing in Québec offers lessons for American students in every grade.

In the face of increasingly brutal and authoritarian suppression on the part of the government -- to the point of one leading official explicitly endorsing fascist tactics from the 1920s and ‘30s to harm his fellow citizens -- this Québécois model of student unionism is more important than ever. These hundreds of tiny bastions of direct democracy, like so many seeds strewn on a field, may just yet blossom into a freer, more just, and more democratic Canada. And no matter the outcome of this particular strike, I hope this example inspires us to pick up our own watering cans and start growing democracy here in the United States -- a land not unfamiliar with that particular crop.

(Cross-posted in EdWeek)

Greek youth and students march against police brutality

Greek youth and students, already facing budget cuts for youth programs, a repressive conservative government pushing the privatization of the university system, and a slowing economy where their degrees mean less and less, are now apparently fed up. The spark? The police killing of a 15-year-old boy. Reuters:

Update on the Greek Student Movement

In prep for a presentation I'm giving at Muhlenberg College this weekend, I ran into a nice (if a bit dated - April 2008) summation of the current state of the student movement in Greece - particularly its resistance to neoliberal "reforms." (Check out our earlier coverage of the issue early last year for some background.) Apparently the joint work between students and faculty against these reforms has for the most part collapsed.

Chilean students and teachers stike against LGE [UPDATED]

The Chilean student movement, which recently has been no stranger to fighting the government (and winning), has over the past month been organizing and demonstrating against the proposed General Education Law (LGE), a sweeping piece of legislation that will fundamentally change the way education is structured in Chile.

Students Fight for the Right to Protest

Over 250 high school students who staged a one-hour walkout on March 19th to protest the Iraq War are fighting the principal's decision to give them all two day detentions and fighting for the right to free expression in school. From their March 31st press release:

“This detention is unfair, because we were taking a chance to voice our opinions and educate ourselves, which we are not given the opportunity to adequately do so in school,” said Aislinn Bauer, a Princeton High School sophomore and one of the organizers of the walkout. “We’re turning this punishment into something productive.”
“What I do not understand is how we were able to miss three periods to see Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Experience perform and throw Mardi Gras beads at us, which had little to no educational value,” said Russell Cavallaro, another Princeton High School sophomore. “This walkout actually had educational value. Students were educated on the causes of the war, why it should never have happened, and had a chance to offer their respects to the fallen soldiers.”

The Times also covered the situation:

 

[...] sophomore Aislinn Bauer, said the rally against the war gave students an opportunity that isn't found in the classroom.
During history lessons, she said, it's more acceptable to talk about past events than to discuss conflicts existing today.
"It's as if the teachers don't want to get in trouble or cause problems by engaging in debate that has many different sides. But this war is very real," Bauer said. "We had to take it in our own hands to educate ourselves and others."

I got a chance to talk to Arantzazu Galdos, one of the organizers of the protest. She said that students converged on the Board of Education on the 31st, and presented their case of what happened.

The walkout organizers informed the principal of their impending action well in advance. "He started off telling us that it's alright, and then a couple of days before the walkout he started basically yelling at us," said Galdos. "He said things like 'I can't believe you're doing this,' 'do this on your own time,' and then he turned around and told the press how proud he was" of what they were doing. According to Galdos, Judy Wilson, the District Superintendent, said she frankly didn't believe them.

The students at the walkout signed petitions demanding the school district inform students of their right to opt-out of military recruiting contact lists (No Child Left Behind made it a requirement that high schools share their students' information to military recruiters - making what used to be an opt-in situation an opt-out situation). Another petition demanded the right to speak out on political issues when they are brought up in classes - "political discussion is routinely silenced in class, even when we're talking about an issue," Galdos said.

At the school board meeting, parents and community members also took the time to voice their support for the students. There is a larger board meeting coming up on April 22 at 8pm, and the organizers expect to have a large presence there as well.

This is a great example of thinking globally and organizing locally. Instead of just having a walk-out to protest the Iraq War (which really would do nothing to stop the war itself), they linked the war with issues relevant to the students -- the right to opt-out of being harassed by military recruiters, and the right to freedom of expression in school. That's probably how they were able to get about a quarter of the entire student population out of their classes and on the front lawn (despite the Principal's -- ever vacillating -- disapproval). And now that they have 250 signatures on those petitions, along with students who have materially invested themselves in a previous action (the act of leaving class, and getting detention), the time is ripe for increased organizing in the next few months -- especially at a time where students are getting more and more restless as the summer approaches.

Kudos to the walkout organizers, and I wish them success going forward.

Students Walk Out in Solidarity with Striking Teachers



In the town of Garfield, NJ, where teachers have been working without a contract for months now, hundreds of teachers called in sick to work on the same day, effectively taking part in a wildcat strike. The Record:

Hundreds of students stormed out of Garfield High School Friday chanting, cheering and holding signs in support of their teachers, who have been working without a contract since the end of the last school year.

The brief rally, triggered by a fire alarm around 9 a.m., came a day after 350 teachers called out sick in an apparent protest over the contract negotiations. The district closed schools Thursday.

Students held signs that read, "No Contracts! No Teachers! No Students!" and "Settle Contracts."

"They don’t have any contracts, that's crazy," said one student, standing on Outwater Lane outside the high school.

The fates of students and educators are inextricably linked, and when they act in solidarity with each other against a common threat, wonderful things can happen.

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