The Cuts and the Fightback

— Tanya Smith

THE ACCELERATED PRIVATIZATION taking place at the University of California is transforming the institution. For faculty, students and workers the changes are devastating. Programs and services are cut, student fees are raised over and over again, workers face both furloughs and layoffs while the faculty’s shared governance shrinks.

Privatization threatens faculty, students and workers in different ways, but as September 24 demonstrated, the threats have thrown them together in new ways. What kind of research does a privatized “public” university conduct? And what kind of education does a privatized “public” university offer?

After 15 months of attempting to bargain for a new contract, UPTE Local 1 — University Professional and Technical Employees-CWA 9119 at UC Berkeley and Office of the President — held its first Unfair Labor Practice strike on May 6, 2009.

We announced the strike well in advance, giving graduate student employees the opportunity to organize outside of their union (UAW Local 2865), which has no sympathy strike language. Thus many graduate student instructors were able to honor the picket lines as a matter of personal conscience.

The picket lines swelled in that May afternoon, when the students joined in large numbers. Even when the striking workers, many of whom had been on the lines since 5 am, began to leave the lines held strong.

Student Energy, Union Resources

Between UPTE and the support it received from AFSCME, Coalition of University Employees (CUE) and UC-AFT, campus unions have supplied the backbone of the movement to defend public education at UC. Students supply energy, enthusiasm, ideas, and numbers, but the unions come up with resources, including the buses to UCLA for the UC Regents meeting in November.

In early Summer, students, suddenly slapped with a 9% fee hike and workers, facing furloughs and layoffs in the Fall, got together. They formed the Student Worker Action Team (SWAT), and began joint planning to fight back against the cuts. They helped start the General Assemblies that called for the October 24 Statewide Conference to Defend Public Education, attended by over 800.

In the weeks leading up to the ULP strikes of May 6, September 24 and November 18-19 (the November 18-20 days of action), students and workers built for the big events. Outreach included Town Halls, leafletting, tabling and holding building meetings. An extensive and coordinated network of undergraduate and graduate students visited classrooms to announce the strikes in September and November.

Students in some departments — including education, art and law — were particularly well organized. They sponsored forums and formed contingents with banners in the marches.

At the July Regents’ meeting AFSCME, UPTE, and CUE protested the Regents giving UC President Yudof  “emergency powers.” Students and faculty also spoke out at the Regents meeting, but it was clear that organized labor could provide transportation, large numbers of people, signs and leaflets — all of which drew media attention.

Had it not been summer, the student turnout would have been much larger, but the coordination and logistics provided by the unions were invaluable. That level of organization, along with the Regents’ decision, encouraged many Academic Senate faculty to join the struggle wholeheartedly.

With an incredible facility for organizing and amazing abilities to network via email/facebook/websites, etc., students bring far more than enthusiasm and “numbers” to this movement. Their enthusiasm and numbers are wonderful in themselves. They act as if their lives are at stake, and so they should. So should we all. And they remember to make it fun. So should we all.

ATC 145, March-April 2010

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