At the peak of day one of the UC Santa Barbara graduate students’ strike, more than 1,000 students swarmed Storke Tower, marching from the center of campus to the Mosher Alumni House to the University Library, chanting over and over, “What do we want? COLA! When do we want it? Now!”
Four hours later, with their voices growing weak but still 50 strong, graduate students packed up their base camp, preparing to return for the next day — to return indefinitely or until graduate students vote in a general assembly to end the strike.
Thursday marked the first day of the UCSB graduate students’ cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) strike; the strike is planned to continue indefinitely or until graduate students vote in a general assembly to end it. While on strike, UCSB graduate students who work as teaching assistants will withhold Winter 2020 grades and will not hold any sections or do any work unrelated to their own degrees.
A large number of graduate students, undergraduates and faculty returned for the second day of the strike, with upwards of 300 showing up for day two of the rally.
UCSB’s graduate students are from the second campus within the UC system to go on strike in the fight for a COLA; UC Santa Cruz graduate students are on their 13th day on the picket line, and UC Davis recently announced that they will be withholding grades starting yesterday.
Every UC campus — except for UC San Francisco — has taken some form of organizing action for a COLA.
The strike at UCSB began at 8 a.m. and continued until 5 p.m., with a rally at noon where close to 1,600 people filled the Storke Tower lawn. The crowd heard from various organizers, faculty and undergraduates before marching across bike lanes, through the Arbor and to the Mosher Alumni House parking lot. On the way back to Storke Tower, a crowd formed a circle around the University Library, continuing to chant while other speakers spoke.
Diane Fujino, a professor and interim chair in the department of Asian American studies, said to the crowd at the rally that the university needs to be more seriously addressing COLA.
“When the Thomas Fires hit, this university took extraordinary measures — finals were moved to another quarter. This, I say, is an extraordinary moment. Graduate students on average spend over 50% of their income on rent. This is untenable.”
Graduate Student Association (GSA) President Cierra Sorin said that the high turnout for the first day of the strike was unexpected.
“I’m not gonna lie, I was scared getting up this morning. I didn’t sleep a whole lot last night; this is a big thing that we’re doing. But people came through,” Sorin said. “Every constituency on campus, I think, came through today, especially the undergrads — there were hundreds of undergrads that came out. I’m in awe.”
Thursday morning began with approximately 20 people, but by 11 a.m., that number grew to over 100, which grew to over 1,000 by noon. A large part of that crowd included undergraduates and faculty who stood in solidarity with graduate students throughout the day; more than 50 S.T.E.M. students also had their own separate march from the Chemistry Lawn before merging into the larger rally at Storke Tower.
At the same time, about 80 faculty members across different departments — all wearing black and several wearing graduation regalia — met at Cheadle Hall and delivered their own demands to Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall, emphasizing that they believe there should be no retaliation against students or faculty for participating in COLA organizing.
History professor Ann Marie Plane, who was one of the professors that delivered the demands, said in an interview that it was a “cordial meeting” but noted that administration and graduate students may have a hard time coming to an agreement over a COLA without “significant intervention, either by the university administration in Oakland, and/or the state legislature coming up with more funds.”
“We can’t recruit top quality graduate students without some kind of augmentation. Absolutely we’re going to lose students, lose the international quality and character of the institution,” she said.
During the meeting, Marshall said “it would be most appropriate to take this struggle to Sacramento,” referring to the California legislature, since he estimates it would be around $40 to $50 million to meet UCSB’s COLA estimates.
Marshall added that because the strike is happening without the authorization of the graduate student union, United Auto Workers Union 2865, it is the “official line of the Office of the President” that it is “illegal for the university to negotiate with the students.”
Local political leaders also stood in solidarity with graduate students during the strike, including Santa Barbara County 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who is running for re-election, and I.V. CSD General Manager Jonathan Abboud, who is running for State Assembly. Karen Jones, who is running against Hartmann for the supervisor seat, also came later in the day in support of COLA and to speak with COLA organizers.
Carlos Cruz, a second-year history doctoral student at UCSC who has continued to withhold his classes’ fall quarter grades, came down to Santa Barbara to speak at the strike, emphasizing the importance of UC-wide action in order to get a UC-wide response from UC President Janet Napolitano.
“Pretty much what it comes down to is, what does solidarity mean? What does solidarity look like? If we’re going to change anything, we have to engage in solidarity,” Cruz said. “Not through the power of institutions, [but through] the power of ourselves.”
As the strike continues into next week, Sorin said COLA organizers plan to have more activities during the day, such as teach-ins and lectures about the history of activism and legal observation training as well as social activities, including board games and dance parties.
Sorin said that the UCSB COLA movement is looking to capitalize on the large crowds that showed up for Thursday’s rally and turn that into a deeper involvement with the movement as a whole.
“We’re having more folks come to us hour by hour being like, ‘What can we do to help, how can I get involved?’ We’re getting people self-assigned to sub-committees, having people continue to show up to meetings,” Sorin said.
Jackson Guilfoil and Holly Rusch contributed reporting.