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March 2020

A Militant Program to Win
UC Grad Student Workers Strike

On Thursday, March 5, there were coordinated protests and strike actions on University of California campuses in solidarity with the UC Santa Cruz graduate student workers who have been on strike since mid-February. Above: rally at UC Santa Barbara, where grad student workers went on strike February 28.  (Photo: Daily Nexus)

4 MARCH 2020 – For months, graduate student workers across the University of California have been demanding a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of $1,412 a month to offset skyrocketing rents. Since December, grad students at UC Santa Cruz have withheld grades, and beginning in early February they have been on strike. The walkout is a wildcat, as the leadership of the statewide union, UAW Local 2865, representing 19,000 student workers in the UC system, has refused to authorize it. The UC administration has treated the strikers’ demands with disdain. 

Early on, UC president Janet Napolitano sent riot cops from across the university to brutally beat strikers and their supporters, arresting 17.  Then on February 28, some 54 Santa Cruz grad student workers received letters of termination. Twenty are immigrant students, whose immigration status is at risk and who could face deportation. Another 26 have been barred from spring appointments. This unyielding hard line is no surprise coming from Napolitano, who was head of Homeland Security – boss of the I.C.E. immigration police – in the administration of Democrat “Deporter-in-Chief” Barack Obama.

Revolutionary Internationalist Youth and Internationalist Group at February 21 UCLA solidarity protest. (Internationalist photo)

Across California, students, teachers and others face astronomical housing costs. In Santa Cruz, the average rental unit goes for $2,600 a month, far more than what grad student workers make. Support for strike action has been building, and the firing of 82 teaching assistants sent waves of anger around the UC system.The day before, as UCSC strikers defied a Napolitano ultimatum (“Doomsday 2.0”), 200 grad students at UC Santa Barbara went on a full teaching strike, and on the 28th over 2,000 came out at USB in solidarity with UCSC. At UCLA, UC Berkeley and elsewhere there were angry protests.

Now a statewide action has been called for Thursday, March 5 to “Shut Down UC.” At a UCLA assembly Monday, student workers voted overwhelmingly to strike. It is urgent that this be as solid and widespread as possible. Meanwhile, the UAW 2865 leadership – after letting Santa Cruz strikers hang, saying it was bound by the “no strike” clause of the contract (which it negotiated and 83% of UCSC members opposed) – has called a membership vote on a statewide “unfair labor practices” strike over the UC bosses’ refusal to bargain with it. But while citing the firings, the ULP charges do not specify that they must be rescinded.

UC riot cops arrested at least 17 Santa Cruz strike supporters on February 14, brutally beating, busting heads and dragging them out of the street. (Photo: Dan Coyro/Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Clearly, the UC administration and its draconian tactics are a threat to all students, teachers and workers at the university. Militant strike action is needed to literally “shut it down.” The question is how.

We Internationalists have sought to build support for UC grad student workers. Class Struggle Education Workers put out a solidarity statement (reprinted on the back of this sheet) and CSEW supporters traveled to Santa Cruz, joining pickets and speaking at a general assembly. At UCLA, Revolutionary Internationalist Youth and Internationalist Group supporters have been active in protests. Here we wish to put forward a program to win a strike.

SPREAD THE STRIKE to every corner of the UC system. Every UC school has some level of organizing for the COLA demand, but it varies from campus to campus. A solid UC-wide strike is crucial, now. Demands should include regular adjustment for inflation and no reprisals.

BUILD MASS PICKET LINES THAT NO ONE CROSSES. Even when UCSC picketers closed the main entrance on March 2, people were directed to the second entrance to enter the struck campus! Strike means strike, and picket lines mean “don’t cross,” period!

Appeal for SOLIDARITY ACTION BY FULL-TIME FACULTY, CAMPUS WORKERS AND OTHER WORKERS. Obviously, professors must refuse to teach. Santa Cruz city bus drivers have respected UCSC picket lines. As a UCSC striker remarked about a strike at another university, “the strike won when the municipal garbage workers joined the strike.”

Strikers must demand ALL COPS AND SECURITY GUARDS OFF CAMPUS. They are the fist of capitalist “law and order,” and (as we have seen) will be used by former U.S. top cop Napolitano to try to break any strike.

A STATEWIDE ELECTED UNION STRIKE COMMITTEE should be formed, with delegates from every campus, who can be recalled at any time. UAW bureaucrats have opposed the UCSC wildcat and other strike action, and can be counted on to undercut even a “ULP strike” that they call. But the bureaucracy is not the union, the membership is!

“Spread the Strike UC-Wide!” UCLA, February 21.  (Internationalist photo)

A wildcat strike can be a spark for necessary labor action, but it is no substitute for a united, massive mobilization of the union ranks. Grad strikers must not be counterposed to the union, but instead should organize to take control of a strike out of the hands of the sellout bureaucrats.

What’s needed to actually win a strike is to mobilize working-class power. If dock workers, transport workers and others took action, would-be union-buster Napolitano would fail, and likely fall. RIY and CSEW call to abolish the Board of Regents and institute student/teacher/worker control of the university.

That means fighting politically, above all breaking with the Democratic Party. Janet Napolitano is a Democrat. So are California governor Gavin Newsom and the majority of both houses of the state legislature, who prepared and voted a state budget based on poverty pay for student workers and other “contingent” employees, who can be fired at any time, as we just saw.

So Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders offers a statement of empty support for the UCSC strike, but the bosses of the education system and the political system at every level in California are Democrats … as are the union tops. What’s needed is a fighting union leadership built on a program to win the class struggle. This includes breaking with all capitalist parties, not only Democrats and Republicans, but also minor ones like the Greens – to forge a revolutionary workers party to put an end to capitalist exploitation.  ■