Solidarity — something UCSB has in spades.
Whether a graduate student, staff member, professor or undergraduate, the spirit of something bigger than any one person rang across campus on Thursday as hundreds of protestors flooded the plaza around Storke Tower, each dressed in black.
A continuation of the UCSB cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) strike that began a week ago, this rally was part of a UC-wide “blackout” to support the 82 UCSC graduate students fired from their positions last Friday, who have been withholding grades since December 2019 in their fight for higher wages.
Unfazed by the threats up north, UCSB protestors stood as a united front. After a week stationed on Storke’s lawn, their commitment has remained steady – and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
“This is what community looks like!” they chanted.
At each campus, COLA movements urged faculty to cancel all classes and undergraduate students to stage a walkout. While only UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC Riverside joined UCSB in their day long strike, all 10 UC campuses showed signs of support.
UCSB’s effort began with a rally at noon, though supporters had started to join graduate students on the grass hours beforehand. Once 12 p.m. hit, signs like “Faculty for COLA” and “You’re gonna have to fire us too” populated the square as professors joined the fight.
Among the calls of “COLA for all” and “UCSC – UC-wide solidarity,” some raised their voices above the rest.
“I think teaching is an informative act, a revolutionary act, it is a craft,” UCSB lecturer Tris Fancher yelled out. “The UC administration does not care about teaching.”
“Shame!” the crowd called back.
Soon, people and posters alike departed their base, making themselves known around every inch of campus. Moving through the library and across bike paths, the protestors resumed their post at Henley Gate, UCSB’s entrance. As the group greeted visitors with shouts and blowhorns, some cars gave their own nod to action, honking to the tune of their demands.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Eileen Boris, a distinguished feminist studies professor at UCSB. “It’s huge and so full of solidarity across faculty, undergraduates and graduate students. I can add my voice. I can add my lobbying. (But) we don’t have the power to raise wages for graduate students without a coalition.”
And that coalition has been building for months.
While Thursday marked UCSB graduate students’ eighth day abstaining from class and withholding grades, the movement began with UCSC in September. Noticing a rise in rent burden – spending over 30% of monthly take-home pay on rent – across the UC system, UCSC graduate students decided to take a stand, according to the UCSB4COLA website.
After giving notice to their university administration that they wanted a COLA of $1,412, compared to the extra $1,808.51 UCSB graduate students have called for, UCSC failed to meet demands.
Responding with a grading strike, UCSC grad students have withheld fall and winter grades since December, even as they faced police presence. Failing to submit grades and return to work by Feb. 21, as requested in a letter from UCSC Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Keltzer, at least 82 grad students were terminated, sparking UC-wide outrage.
“I’m here for all of our grad students and especially for all of the firings at UCSC,” said Baron Harbor, seventh-year graduate student at UCSB. “Frankly, this is the only way that we’re going to make our lives better.”
“Now that the administration is taking a militant stance and are escalating the cause by bringing cops to campus and firing people, I see no choice but to come out here and support my fellow colleagues.”
As the movement grows across the UC system, graduate students have stressed that their actions are a “wildcat” strike, meaning that they are striking without approval from their union and contract. Protestors have argued that their current contract, negotiated between United Auto Workers Local 2865 – the union that represents many but not all UC graduate student employees – and the UC system, is not conducive to the high cost of living across California.
UAW Local 2865 did not authorize UCSC’s initial strike or the efforts that have happened since, operating under a “no strike clause,” but invited campuses to bargain for COLA. However, the UC system has refused to reopen its contract with UAW 2865 so far, which is not set to expire until June 2022.
In response, UAW Local 2865 filed two unfair labor practice charges against UC Regents. The first set of charges allege that the UC refused to negotiate COLA with UAW, instead bargaining directly with individual and university-funded organizations, which don’t have the legal authority to bargain with the UC, according to a UAW press release.
A second set of charges allege that the UC violated the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act, which gives UC employees the right to unionize or not, by dismissing the 82 UCSC graduate students.
If the UC’s do not resolve these charges, the union will hold a membership strike authorization vote in early April, UAW said in a press release. This vote would call on all union members across California to decide whether or not to authorize an ULP strike against the UC system. If the vote passes, the sanctioned strike would have sweeping effects statewide.
As tensions at a state-level await resolution, the UCSB graduate students have their own set of demands: reinstatement of all UCSC students immediately and UC Office of the President engagement with strikers. Otherwise, they will be back on Tuesday, and every day after that, to see that their voices are heard.
While graduate students continue to stand their ground, undergraduates may feel the brunt of the movement. Left without TAs, some sections and classes have been cancelled, a few halting for the rest of the quarter. But many undergraduates have still lent their support.
“I know some people who say they really need sections to learn, but they’re also saying this is so much bigger than us,” said Jayson Park, fourth-year UCSB student. “We have more to gain from having no lecture.
“Folks need a way to live. If they can’t live and can’t eat, they can’t teach. That hurts everyone.”