After occupying Cheadle Hall for most of the morning, UC Santa Barbara’s COLA movement drew a crowd of close to 3,000 graduate students, faculty and undergraduates at its UC-wide work stoppage on Friday afternoon, as they marched to the entrance of campus at Henley Gate.
A majority of the UC campuses attracted crowds of demonstrators throughout the day, both in support of a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and in solidarity with the UC Santa Cruz graduate students who were fired for withholding Fall Quarter 2019 grades as part of their COLA strike.
After UCSC, UCSB’s COLA movement marks the second UC campus to begin a full strike; Thursday’s action marked one full week since UCSB graduate students began striking. COLA organizers across the UC system called for the one-day strike, asking professors to halt lectures, students to walk out of class and for participants to wear black, hence the name “black-out” strike.
“The motto of the UC system is “let there be light,” one speaker said at the Storke Tower noon rally. “When we wear black, it shows the UC administration that without graduate student labor, there is no light.”
The UC-wide work stoppage started early morning on Thursday; at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, protesters blocked all four entrances to Cheadle Hall — UCSB’s administrative building — and stood shoulder-to-shoulder at each entrance. At the front entrance, organizers held a sign that read, “FUCK THE UC! AND A BITCH NAMED JANET.”
Some administrators who work in Cheadle Hall argued with strikers and attempted to force their way through but were pushed back, sending administrators and staffers circling around the building in hopes of finding another way in.
“You know, you guys, I don’t fucking support you. We have to work too,” one employee said to COLA organizers.
Organizers continued to refuse to allow administrators to enter into the building, including Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn and Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall.
After the UC Police Department and administration spoke with protesters, saying they had to move or risk being arrested, organizers regrouped and decided to move inside instead, occupying every floor of the building and chanting, “Don’t cross the picket, don’t be a scab,” to employees as they entered.
One undergraduate advisor left his office to explain to strikers that “the students that we see are just as stressed as you are.” After organizers began arguing and chanting — drowning out the advisor — Ry Brennan, one of COLA’s de-escalators, came to help defuse the situation.
Brennan and the advisor reached a compromise, in which strikers would be alerted to stay quiet should any undergraduates come into the building.
After occupying Cheadle Hall for most of the morning, organizers started to gear up for the noon rally. At approximately 11:30 a.m., students and faculty holding “Faculty for COLA” and “You’re gonna have to fire us too, Janet,” banners marched from Cheadle Hall to Storke Tower and met with demonstrators who had been there since 8 a.m. as part of their regularly scheduled strike.
At Storke Tower, UC worker unions and academic associations expressed their solidarity with and support of UCSB’s COLA movement to an animated crowd.
Speakers representing different unions emphasized a message of solidarity between various unions, all fighting for better treatment from the UC.
Jarrod Colvin, a UCSB groundskeeper and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 member, noted the similarities between the COLA movement and the labor strikes throughout the country, including AFSCME 3299’s labor fight over the past few years.
“Every person in this country deserves that security, and that’s why we won’t stop fighting until we have a job that’s worth having and a way to pay rent. You have our support as workers, and I know not a lot of people [from AFSCME] made it out here today because they’re very busy, but I’ve been talking to them at work and you absolutely have our support,” Colvin said.
Following Colvin, Christopher John Newfield, a professor of literature and American studies at UCSB and second vice president of the executive council of the Modern Language Association (MLA) of America, emphasized the MLA’s “unanimous and quite enthusiastic” commitment to support the UC-wide strikers and condemned the termination of UCSC graduate students.
At 1 p.m., the procession of approximately 3,000 marched to Henley Gate, garnering the attention of those on campus as they passed through the Arbor and University Library. Those in “precarious situations,” such as undocumented or international students, were encouraged to walk by organizers wearing red armbands and caution tape, who were designated de-escalators.
At Henley Gate, the crowd chanted, “Cops off campus, COLA in our bank accounts,” at cars driving by and police officers monitoring the event. Protesters stayed at the gate for nearly 30 minutes before walking back to Storke, where some remained to complete the daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. strike.
New York University sociology professor Andrew Ross visited Santa Barbara to take part in the strike, praising attendees as a catalyst for social change.
“Graduate student employees are the true conscience of the academic profession, and COLA strikers are the true conscience of the UAW,” Ross said.
“No one deserves to be paid a poverty wage because they love teaching or because they’re training for a job in an academic profession,” he said. “That is not a principle of fair labor, that is a recipe for exploitation.”
Sanya Kamidi and Evelyn Spence contributed reporting.