UC Berkeley and the University of California system have a strong and proud hxstory of student and worker solidarity, building coalitions that successfully resist privatization and austerity measures that heavily affect marginalized communities on our campuses. One does not have to look far back to see the extraordinary power that students and workers have when they join together to fight back – just last November, students and workers came together to participate in the largest strike in UC hxstory. More than 30,000 students and workers united to protest the intimidation of our campus workers by the administration during their contract negotiations. This is just one of the many examples of the strength that students and workers posses when they join forces and organize against the tyranny of the University and its Board of Regents.
Student worker solidarity isn’t new, and one needs to look back only a couple of years to truly understand how the University of California and the State of California have exacerbated the need for students and workers to stand together. In 2009, the UC Board of Regents approved a 32% increase in tuition, putting tuition at an all-time high of over $10,000. This came about as a result of the State’s lack of prioritizing higher education (by reducing state aid by $650 million in 2009 and $500 million in 2010 because of a budget deficit), combined with the University’s own budget deficit. In response, students and workers came together to fight against these tuition hikes, as well as to protest the intimidation practices of the UC against its workers. Workers went on strike while students took over Wheeler Hall to demonstrate that students and workers do not take their marginalization lightly. In response, the University called in police from various counties and agencies to repress the protesters.
As the demonstrations continued, administration and police escalated their use of violence and intimidation resulting in the arrest of students and faculty across the UC, as well as injuring hundreds of students with their use of batons and rubber bullets. As Sacramento continued to decrease state funding, the Board of Regents continued their policy of tuition increases by approving an 8% hike in November of 2010 and a 9.6% hike in the summer of 2011. Students and workers continued to organize, and continued to face police brutality, such as when protesters were kept away from the Regents’ meeting through the use of tear gas and batons; at one point, the police even drew their guns on students.
The following year, students and workers again had to come together when the Board of Regents proposed an 81% increase in tuition. An organization composed of students and workers, calling themselves the Coalition for Public Education, organized mass walk-outs and teach-outs in November, converging with Occupy Cal’s seizure of Sproul Plaza. The administration responded by sending police to break up the peaceful protest by using batons to beat students and faculty, dragging some by the hair and ultimately arresting them. UC Berkeley administration and police were met with mass media exposure and widespread criticism over their excessive use of force, and the way that Provost George Breslauer and Chancellor Birgeneau responded to protest and criticisms. Students, faculty and workers called for a general strike across the UC–which was also met with police brutality, as evident through the UC Davis pepper spraying incident. Ultimately, however, the organizing of students and workers prevented the 81% increase of tuition.
Student-worker solidarity didn’t stop there. The following year, students and workers once again came together to push through Proposition 30, which proposed an increase in taxes to supply institutions of higher education with much needed revenue, and to avoid a 20.3% tuition hike that would happen if the proposition failed. Students and workers also came together as major unions on our campus (AFSCME Local 3299, UAW 2865, and UPTE-CWA 9199) began contract negotiations to renew their contracts.
Unsurprisingly, the University continued its efforts to further oppress marginalized communities on our campus by denying workers job security, safe staffing levels, and wage increases, and slashing health and pension plans. Workers were under constant attack as their jobs were being cut, they were being forced out by attrition, and they were continually being overworked and injured for inadequate wages while their respective unions were being further undermined. In the same year that Proposition 30 was passed, students and workers united to prevent the firing of five workers in Eshleman Hall. As negotiations continued, the union was forced into a strike to protest understaffing and a decline in patient safety in the UC’s medical centers; but instead of being allowed to participate in their legally protected right to strike, workers were faced with intimidation tactics on behalf of their supervisors and administration. As a result, AFSCME Local 3299, with support from students and other unions such as UAW 2865 (the union that represent GSI’s, readers and tutors), went on strike against Unfair Labor Practices on behalf of the UC. This was a historic strike, as students and workers from nine campuses and five hospitals across the UC joined the picket line in an effort to show the University that intimidation tactics and attacks on collective power would not be tolerated. Even though this strike became the largest strike in UC hxstory, the university still refused to grant workers fair wage increases and staffing protections (even though it had granted this for other unions). As a result, AFSCME Local 3299 called for a five-day strike set for March 2014–but just days before the trike was set to begin, the University finally caved under the pressure and the two sides reached an agreement.
These countless victories would not have been possible without students and workers coming together to fight back against a university system that does not prioritize the needs of its primary stakeholders. This lack of prioritization is evident not only in the ways that the university uses violence to suppress the freedoms of speech and assembly, but also in the ways that the university prioritizes individual’s needs before the needs of students and workers, two entities which are necessary to make our university function. It is now, more than ever, that student-worker solidarity is imperative because even when administrators funnel money out of students and workers and into their own pockets, and even when the university continues to further oppress our most marginalized and underrepresented communities on campus, and even though
we continue to struggle day in and day out against physical, emotional and mental violence, we will rise and we will succeed, together. Even in the face of all these struggles, the beauty is always in the rise and with students and workers standing
together, what a beautiful and strong rise it’ll be.
Want to Get Involved with Organizing on Campus?
Come to the Student labor Organizing Conference (SLOC) on October 25th Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Know your Berkeley Unions
• AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) Local 3299 represents over 22,000 service and patient care workers across the UC.
• UAW Local 2865 represents over 12,000 academic student employees – readers, tutors, TAs, and others across the UC
• UPTE (University Professional and Technical Employees-Communication Workers of America)-CWA 9119 represents over 10,000 healthcare, research and technical employees across the UC
• UC-AFT represents about 10,000 non-tenured faculty, lecturers, and librarians at the UC.
• Teamsters Local 2010 represents over 14,000 administrative assistants, cashiers, library assistants and other clerical workers