The largest strike in higher education history began early Monday morning as tens of thousands of academic employees across all 10 University of California campuses began picketing, withholding their labor and marching in protest.
The union workers, including teaching assistants, student researchers, graduate student instructors, tutors and readers represented under United Auto Workers, authorized the strikes in response to 28 unfair labor practices allegedly committed by the UC over the course of renegotiating the union’s various contracts.
Over 500 graduate students, employees, faculty members and UC Santa Barbara community members congregated at Davidson Library at 12 p.m. today in support of union efforts to fairly bargain for a better contract with the UC.
The protestors made their way to various picket lines on campus, chanting phrases like “Who runs the UC? We run the UC!” “My neck, my back, the UC is wack” and “Union strong” as they marched.
“UCSB cannot independently resolve these negotiations, and any strike action will occur on all ten UC campuses,” the statement read. “Whether or not you wish to actively support the strike during this time, achieving the learning objectives of your courses should be your primary focus for the end of this quarter.”
Representatives from both graduate and undergraduate organizations spoke ahead of the march. A graduate student from UCSB’s Department of Physics and Student Researchers United organizer who identified himself as Joe spoke to his frustrations with the UC’s inaction.
“This university is run by grad students, postdocs and academic researchers, but the admin refuses to bargain with us for fair living wages. Instead of bargaining, they have repeatedly broken the law, and this has given us no chance but to strike,” he said.
He stressed the university’s history of wage inequity, referencing UCSB Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s 28.4% pay raise earlier this spring while union contract renegotiations were concurrently being ignored.
“Make no mistake, UC has the resources to meet our demands. They’re refusing to bargain because we are not their priority,” he said. “We get poorer, our living situation gets worse and the pay of the Chancellor goes up, and the endowment goes up.”
Joe said to the crowd that the UC is dismissing bargaining demands because administrators don’t value the contributions of academic workers.
“They’re letting all of this education, all of this research, grind to a halt because they don’t really give a fuck about it. They don’t care about me. They don’t care about you. They don’t care about any of us. All they care about is money and that greed is destroying this institution,” he said. “This place is supposed to be for the people, not just the rich. How can you be for the people when the highest level of education is locked in an ivory tower?”
Undergraduate students were encouraged by their peers and other graduate student organizers not to cross the picket line during the strike.
“I want to say a huge shout out to the undergrads who come out and support … you’re not in this contract but you’re with us at this university, you are part of our community and your solidarity is going to be key to our success,” Joe said.
Third-year doctoral candidate and TA Becky Martin spoke to the demands that TAs are seeking with their contract renegotiations.
“The goal is for the UCs to come to the bargaining table in good faith to work with us on a contract that makes it so that me and my friends don’t have to live in destitution to do what we want to do,” they said. “I’m hoping there will be some sort of pretty substantial change in how we’re compensated because it is so expensive to live and work here.”
Like dozens of other TAs at UCSB, Martin canceled their sections as a result of the strike, emphasizing that the outcome of the strike will ultimately be worth any disruptions it may cause.
“Your TAs care about you. One of the things that makes me angriest is that in this fight, the education of undergrads is kind of like being put on hold but, in the grand scheme, this will be worth it in the long haul,” they said.
Fourth-year environmental studies and sociology double major and Co-chair of the UCSB chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) Caela Imbrogno Erickson organized the event to rally undergraduate and faculty support for the union’s cause.
“We think that it’s really important that we present a united front,” Erickson said. “The things that impact our TAs impact us. [The UC] wouldn’t be a No.1 research institute if there weren’t all of these grad students working their asses off.”
A strike fund organized between the three unions has already raised over $89,000 as of Monday afternoon. Money raised by the strike hardship fund will be distributed by the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, the fundraiser website states.
One speaker, an undergraduate with the YDSA who identified himself as Cody, spoke to those gathered about the systemic frustrations many students face within higher education.
“Just look at all of you, our TAs. You did everything right. You graduated high school, you graduated college and you took it even further and what do you have to show for it? Fucking nothing,” he said. “Not a living wage, you have rent burdens, you have insecure housing. Some of you have second jobs, hungry kids.”
Cody said to the crowd that the cyclical nature of inaccessible living and low wages in academia has disenfranchised students who aren’t wealthy.
“With the way the university treats its graduate students and its undergraduate students, it ensures that success is not the result of school, it is the prerequisite for school,” he continued. “So, when is our hard work supposed to pay off? When is the cycle of working and poverty so working harder for more poverty supposed to end? If it’s up to them, it’s not gonna. But it’s not up to them.”
He encouraged protestors of all kinds to stand in solidarity against the university as the strike continues.
“We are all here for different reasons, from different backgrounds and circumstances. And, we all have very different needs. But one thing that unites us, maybe most of all, is that those needs are not being met by this institution,” he said. “So, today, tomorrow, the next day, the next week, however long it takes, you will find us right here fighting for what we deserve for what we earned.”