Class Size and Class Struggle: Organizing Lessons from the UCSC Strike

Twen­ty-two activists were arrest­ed dur­ing the Unfair Labor Prac­tices strike at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, and they need your help. Please call the num­bers at this link and demand that the charges be dropped.


“I appre­ci­ate the calm and pro­fes­sion­al man­ner in which UC police han­dled this morning’s chal­lenge,” wrote Exec­u­tive Vice Chan­cel­lor Alison Gal­loway in an offi­cial email about our April 2-3 strike at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia. This was just after one of us was dragged to the ground and forcibly arrest­ed after pub­licly announc­ing an inten­tion to legal­ly pick­et, and com­ply­ing with police demands to turn around.

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Pho­to by Alex Daro­cy

The “chal­lenge” for the admin­is­tra­tion, it seems, rep­re­sent­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the labor move­ment – our strike has been wide­ly cov­ered in the labor media. This con­firms for those of us involved in UAW 2865 – the stu­dent-work­ers union which rep­re­sents 13,000 teach­ing assis­tants, read­ers, and tutors across the UC sys­tem – that we aren’t just a stu­dent move­ment cross­ing over into labor pol­i­tics. We are a vital and cen­tral part of the labor move­ment today, a move­ment look­ing for cre­ative strate­gies. Along the same lines, we rep­re­sent an insti­tu­tion­al lega­cy of grad­u­ate stu­dent union­iza­tion, which is a cru­cial weapon for aca­d­e­mic work­ers who face increas­ing­ly pre­car­i­ous con­di­tions.

Our posi­tion between the stu­dent and labor move­ments has been a core aspect of our orga­niz­ing. While we often end up drift­ing between the­se two poles, we have also found that our posi­tion opens unex­pect­ed pos­si­bil­i­ties and reveals unex­pect­ed allies. Since the issues we con­front extend across the whole uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem, itself a space that increas­ing­ly cov­ers whole geo­graph­ic regions, we have to ask how this kind of move­ment can spread. How can aca­d­e­mic work­ers at oth­er uni­ver­si­ties begin to build their own orga­ni­za­tions? How can the labor move­ment as a whole exper­i­ment with new strate­gies and orga­ni­za­tion­al forms?

We don’t claim to have answers to the­se mas­sive and cru­cial ques­tions. We do want to try to answer a more lim­it­ed, but more con­crete ques­tion: what lessons can be drawn from the union expe­ri­ence at UCSC – not just this strike, which both­ered the admin­is­tra­tion enough to bring in out­side riot police, but also the long, dif­fi­cult, com­pli­cat­ed, and reward­ing process of build­ing a rad­i­cal union move­ment over the past sev­er­al years?

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An orga­niz­ing meet­ing the evening of April 2.

1. Historic moments for campus solidarity

When In The­se Times report­ed on our ear­lier Novem­ber 20 strike as “A ‘His­toric Moment’ for Cam­pus Sol­i­dar­i­ty,” it was because we had tak­en advan­tage of a “coin­ci­dence of tim­ing” to declare a sym­pa­thy strike in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the ser­vice work­ers of AFSCME 3299. The­se work­ers dri­ve the shut­tle bus­es, cook in the din­ing halls, clean the build­ings, and main­tain the grounds – and they have con­front­ed extreme lev­els of inequal­i­ty at the UC. Under­grad­u­ate activists took the ini­tia­tive to shut down the cam­pus in sup­port.

While the sym­pa­thy strike might have come as a sur­prise, sol­i­dar­i­ty between work­ers, grad stu­dents, and under­grads has been the bedrock for suc­cess­ful cam­pus and sys­tem-wide orga­niz­ing suc­cess­es for at least the last decade. This sol­i­dar­i­ty is built on the mutu­al recog­ni­tion of what UC admin­is­tra­tors most fear: the obvi­ous inter­con­nect­ed­ness of all of our strug­gles. Cam­pus work­ers, who are typ­i­cal­ly given lit­tle voice in sto­ries of cam­pus activism – despite the fact that their labor keeps the uni­ver­si­ty run­ning – have been work­ing since at least 2004 to become a vis­i­ble pres­ence in cam­pus strug­gle.

On the oth­er hand, while top lev­el admin­is­tra­tors and their cheer­lead­ers por­tray stu­dent activists as priv­i­leged fire­brands, the real­i­ty is far dif­fer­ent. Grad­u­ate stu­dents do the basic work of teach­ing and grad­ing, the basic con­di­tion for every university’s mis­sion of edu­ca­tion and research, for rad­i­cal­ly low wages. Under­grad­u­ates also par­tic­i­pate in this work, as well as work­ing part-time or even full-time out­side the uni­ver­si­ty, in fields as diverse as farm­work, domes­tic labor, and the ser­vice indus­try. They find them­selves pay­ing the price for the cut­backs aimed at cam­pus work­ers and grad­u­ate stu­dents: larg­er class sizes, few­er resources in the libraries, and few­er work­ers to ser­vice their res­i­dence halls, all on top of a ris­ing tuition and plum­met­ing job prospects.

Today the uni­ver­si­ty is one of the pri­ma­ry sites in the US for labor orga­niz­ing; as Unit­ed Auto Work­ers’ inter­est in grad­u­ate stu­dents and Unit­ed Steel­work­ers’ inter­est in adjuncts show, unions need the uni­ver­si­ty –  and that means coali­tion work between stu­dents, work­ers, and stu­dent-work­ers.  Our local has approached coali­tion work with stu­dents very sim­ply: we offer sup­port for what­ev­er orga­niz­ing projects they engage in. Since under­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate stu­dent inter­ests have tend­ed to over­lap, we’ve had com­mon ground on which to build sol­i­dar­i­ty and trust. With our fight for a new con­tract loom­ing, we specif­i­cal­ly sought out their help. From the begin­ning, we designed our cam­paign around qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion issues, in part because we built it in coali­tion with under­grad­u­ate friends and com­rades.

In bar­gain­ing, our union hit a wall with man­age­ment over one of the­se qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion issues. Man­age­ment refused to nego­ti­ate on class sizes, which as any teacher knows is an over­whelm­ing­ly impor­tant labor issue. There’s a mas­sive dif­fer­ence between hav­ing 40 stu­dents and hav­ing 80 stu­dents, espe­cial­ly if you care about the student’s per­for­mance and want to give them con­struc­tive feed­back as they all hand in papers and midterms. Some of us are reg­u­lar­ly the only teach­ing assis­tant for class­es of 300. Usu­al­ly 25% of the­se stu­dents fail, and many of them come from the com­mu­ni­ties and fam­i­lies with the least high­er edu­ca­tion expe­ri­ence and the great­est need for sup­port. In oth­er words, class size is also an issue of class and race hier­ar­chy. We main­tain that management’s refusal to nego­ti­ate on class size is an Unfair Labor Prac­tice, because the inten­si­ty of labor is a “manda­to­ry sub­ject of bar­gain­ing.” Even after our Unfair Labor Prac­tices strike, they have pub­licly dug their heels in, and retain a regres­sive posi­tion on qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion issues.

In addi­tion to refus­ing to dis­cuss class size, the UC’s recent pos­ture towards the UAW has involved esca­lat­ing threats, intim­i­da­tion, and now out­right vio­lence. Video­tap­ing protests, threat­en­ing strik­ers with fir­ings, polling work­ers about their union activ­i­ties, threat­en­ing inter­na­tion­al stu­dents with revoked visas for union par­tic­i­pa­tion – such tac­tics have become stan­dard man­age­ment prac­tice. The chair of the UCSC writ­ing depart­ment declared to a group of his employ­ees: “If you strike, you will not work in this depart­ment again.” All this built towards the April 2-3 events at UCSC, when a total of 22 under­grad­u­ates and grad­u­ates were arrest­ed dur­ing the two days of the strike – the “ugly irony” of vio­lent­ly arrest­ing union mem­bers at a strike in protest of intim­i­da­tion has not been lost on the pub­lic.

Arrests seem to con­sti­tute an “event” for the move­ment – an explo­sion of the norm that excite and inspires far beyond the every­day sit­u­a­tions of meet­ings and announce­ments. While this kind of dra­mat­ic rup­ture with the state of things is a real phe­nom­e­non, our expe­ri­ence shows that such events only mat­ter if we have already built a frame­work that can pro­duce that effect – if we are there en masse with a well-artic­u­lat­ed and well-sup­port­ed project. And they only explode if we make them explode – if we have the orga­ni­za­tion­al basis to spend the night dis­trib­ut­ing fly­ers and mobi­liz­ing peo­ple to protest the arrests the next day.

2. We are the union in general!

On the first day of our strike an unhap­py motorist who want­ed to cross the pick­et line com­plained that “the union in gen­er­al” didn’t sup­port our deci­sion to strike. Quick-wit­ted strik­ers respond­ed with a new chant: “We are the union in gen­er­al!” This slo­gan rep­re­sents the most fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of our union, the one that has given strength to our actions. But in order to struc­ture our move­ment around this prin­ci­ple of self-orga­ni­za­tion, we had to fight an inter­nal strug­gle again­st a bureau­crat­ic lead­er­ship more inter­est­ed in absorbing us into the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty.

Between 2004 and 2011, our union was under what we now call the old lead­er­ship, or the “admin­is­tra­tion cau­cus.” One of us par­tic­i­pat­ed in the union from the very begin­ning (2004), when the admin­is­tra­tion cau­cus ensured it was an unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic, demo­bi­lized mess. A few char­ac­ter­is­tics of the old regime:

  • All com­mu­ni­ca­tions to the mem­ber­ship had to be vet­ted through the pres­i­dent of the union. Any time cam­pus lead­er­ship want­ed to email mem­bers, the pres­i­dent had to approve – and often refused to, or dras­ti­cal­ly altered the mes­sage.
  • The exec­u­tive board and the pres­i­dent con­trolled the bud­get. Every request for mon­ey, no mat­ter how small, had to approved by the pres­i­dent, who often denied the request. Once, one of us request­ed a ream of col­ored paper. The pres­i­dent at the time, Christine Petit, would only grant the request if we at UC San­ta Cruz agreed nev­er to use the col­ored paper for “unau­tho­rized” peti­tions or fly­ers. The request for one ream of col­ored paper was denied.
  • Cam­pus-based staff were hired by and direct­ly answer­able to the pres­i­dent of the union. Elect­ed lead­ers and mem­bers at the cam­pus­es had absolute­ly no say over our cam­pus staff, includ­ing the hir­ing process and over­see­ing the orga­niz­ing projects of peo­ple on staff.
  • The UAW inter­na­tion­al staff, often work­ing behind the sce­nes, played a cen­tral role in quash­ing union democ­ra­cy with­in the union. The Inter­na­tion­al staff were (and still are) hired by the Unit­ed Auto Work­ers, our par­ent union, to help us out. Instead of help­ing us mobi­lize effec­tive­ly, how­ev­er, the inter­na­tion­al staff per­sis­tent­ly attempt­ed to keep us under con­trol.

This extreme lev­el of micro­man­age­ment meant that our mem­ber­ship was com­plete­ly dis­in­vest­ed from par­tic­i­pa­tion in the union. The Joint Coun­cil, our statewide lead­er­ship body, was more than half emp­ty. We had no cam­pus auton­o­my. Tech­ni­cal­ly – though we found some ways around this – we sim­ply could not orga­nize any­thing on the cam­pus­es with­out the per­mis­sion of statewide lead­ers. Our union was demo­bi­lized and unable to effec­tive­ly orga­nize to pro­tect and improve the work­ing con­di­tions and com­pen­sa­tion of teach­ing assis­tants, read­ers, and tutors.

When those of us who believed in self-orga­ni­za­tion dis­cov­ered that we had no voice with­in our own union, we formed the Grad­u­ate Stu­dent Sol­i­dar­i­ty Net­work to orga­nize grad­u­ate stu­dent sup­port for AFSCME 3299’s con­tract cam­paign in the spring of 2005. We found that mean­ing­ful sol­i­dar­i­ty work had to hap­pen out­side of our union. We tried to take up the class size issue, orga­niz­ing a peti­tion around the effect of bal­loon­ing class sizes on work­load and qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion. When we brought our peti­tion to the annu­al statewide meet­ing of our union at UC Berke­ley in 2005, it was dis­missed. Although we were the largest cam­pus con­tin­gent present at that meet­ing, we were derid­ed by the lead­er­ship, dis­missed by some as anar­chists, and ulti­mate­ly shut down.

At UC San­ta Cruz, we saw that unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tices with­in the union imped­ed our orga­niz­ing efforts, and decid­ed to begin the slow process of reform. We linked up with reform­ers on oth­er cam­pus­es and formed a minor­i­ty reform bloc on the bar­gain­ing team. We pushed for greater trans­paren­cy and mem­ber input into bar­gain­ing, and were con­sis­tent­ly opposed by the old lead­er­ship.

Then the reces­sion hit, with bud­get cuts and tuition hikes the order of the day. Anoth­er round of bar­gain­ing occurred in 2009-2010, again with reform­ers the minor­i­ty on the bar­gain­ing team. While bar­gain­ing was tak­ing place, the move­ment again­st the bud­get cuts and the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the UC burst onto the scene. Mas­sive ral­lies, strikes, and build­ing occu­pa­tions were wide­spread through­out the UC sys­tem. For the most part, the union, still in the grip of the admin­is­tra­tion cau­cus, was dis­en­gaged from the move­ment. Once again, to do mean­ing­ful orga­niz­ing in the new move­ment we need­ed to orga­nize autonomous­ly from the union.

How­ev­er, reform efforts came alive on the heels of the move­ment again­st pri­va­ti­za­tion in 2009-2010. See­ing the near-com­plete dis­en­gage­ment of the union from the move­ment, grad­u­ate stu­dents at Berke­ley formed Aca­d­e­mic Work­ers for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Union (AWDU). Inspired by Berke­ley, we formed an AWDU chap­ter in San­ta Cruz as well. In the spring of 2011, we con­sol­i­dat­ed our forces, build­ing a statewide coali­tion, and won the tri­en­ni­al elec­tion. From 2011 to 2014, Aca­d­e­mic Work­ers for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Union has made up a major­i­ty of the union lead­er­ship.

Since being elect­ed in 2011, AWDU activists accom­plished a great deal towards their three pri­ma­ry goals: democ­ra­tiz­ing the union, devel­op­ing an explic­it anti-oppres­sion labor project, and build­ing an activist union in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er forms of stu­dent orga­niz­ing. The class size and non-dis­crim­i­na­tion demands cen­tral to our cur­rent con­tract fight are exam­ples of this work. Not only are far more peo­ple involved in union activism than before, at UCSC and sev­er­al oth­er cam­pus­es, the cam­pus lead­ers share all respon­si­bil­i­ties equal­ly.

Bar­gain­ing, begin­ning in the spring of 2013 and con­tin­u­ing to this day, has been opened to all mem­bers: in San­ta Cruz, over 150 activists came to bar­gain­ing and told their sto­ries. One after­noon, on Octo­ber 22, 2013, 100 peo­ple marched to a bar­gain­ing meet­ing, while man­age­ment hid upstairs for over an hour (they had things to print, appar­ent­ly). When they final­ly came down, they had to lis­ten to the tes­ti­monies of grad­u­ate and under­grad­u­ate stu­dents describ­ing their strug­gle to make ends meet, and teach and learn effec­tive­ly. At UC Davis, a group of 40 par­ents and chil­dren marched into bar­gain­ing with their chil­dren to demand fam­i­ly and hous­ing sup­port. At UC Berke­ley, after attend­ing bar­gain­ing, stu­dents marched off to occu­py the Chancellor’s hall­ways. At all the cam­pus­es with strong AWDU sup­port, bar­gain­ing was a live­ly and pow­er­ful affair – it became a means of demon­stra­tion, mobi­liza­tion and rad­i­cal­iza­tion, rather than a qui­et bureau­crat­ic pro­ce­dure.

How­ev­er, we now face a con­sid­er­able chal­lenge. Many of the demo­c­ra­t­ic reforms AWDU imple­ment­ed in the last three years have not been insti­tu­tion­al­ized in our bylaws. If the admin­is­tra­tion cau­cus wins this next elec­tion, they will be able to over­turn many of the­se reforms, and the union will like­ly return to its old state – a rigid, cen­tral­ized bureau­cra­cy dis­con­nect­ed from social move­ments and inca­pable of defend­ing and improv­ing the lives of its mem­bers.

3. Don’t mourn, organize

It’s easy to get dis­heart­ened by the chal­lenges aca­d­e­mic work­ers face in pulling off actions like strikes. Along with high turnover, struc­tural con­di­tions of inse­cu­ri­ty have led many grad­u­ate stu­dents to keep their heads down, to pro­tect their sem­blance of a posi­tion and get their degrees. But rumi­nat­ing over the­se obsta­cles – or worse, the­o­riz­ing them – tends to become a sub­sti­tute for inter­ven­ing again­st them with the unglam­orous but game-chang­ing work of rank-and-file orga­niz­ing. This means knock­ing on doors, mak­ing phone calls, and try­ing to fill mem­ber­ship meet­ings. Dur­ing our strike, it meant talk­ing to every sin­gle car that approached the pick­et line and mak­ing sure they left with a fly­er.

Tac­ti­cal flex­i­bil­i­ty has meant refus­ing to get trapped in debates about whether union strug­gles over wages, ben­e­fits, and labor con­di­tions are reformist, and whether it’s nec­es­sary to go beyond union strug­gles towards rad­i­cal actions that push the bound­aries. We have won our labor demands with actions that push the bound­aries; we know we will not con­vince the uni­ver­si­ty that our demands are bet­ter pol­i­cy, we need to com­pel them to con­cede through active dis­rup­tion. It has also meant join­ing social jus­tice demands to qual­i­ty of edu­ca­tion through the most broad­ly vis­i­ble ele­ments of our work­ing con­di­tions, like class sizes. We knew in this con­tract fight that there would be pres­sure to ditch non-major­i­ty demands like gen­der-neu­tral bath­rooms, fam­i­ly issues, and sup­port for undoc­u­ment­ed work­ers. So we put them first in bar­gain­ing and in mobi­liza­tion, and are aim­ing for a con­tract that will trans­form the ways we think about grad­u­ate stu­dent labor – although we still have a big fight ahead to win it.

Think­ing strate­gi­cal­ly requires enor­mous cre­ativ­i­ty, and the refusal to fall into ide­o­log­i­cal traps. It’s a cliche on the Left today to invoke the virtues of union orga­ni­za­tion again­st anar­chist adven­tur­ism. That kind of state­ment is rad­i­cal­ly inco­her­ent for us, since our union has a large pro­por­tion of anar­chists, and oth­ers gen­er­al­ly com­mit­ted to anti-hier­ar­chi­cal and anti-oppres­sive orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ples, who have played a fun­da­men­tal role in mak­ing it func­tion as an insti­tu­tion. Social democ­rats can take a moment to chuck­le at the fact that anar­chists are work­ing as lead­ers, and should then ask them­selves if they can claim to have done the kind of grass­roots labor orga­niz­ing that the­se anar­chists have. With­out a vibrant rank-and-file basis and anti-bureau­crat­ic orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ples our union wouldn’t have the strength that it does.

Coali­tions are a core part of this kind of strate­gic open­ness. Work­ing with under­grad­u­ate stu­dent groups make every action a lit­tle bit unpre­dictable for man­age­ment and draws in new activists. Orga­ni­za­tions like Autonomous Stu­dents fol­low in a rich tra­di­tion of hell-rais­ing that they con­sis­tent­ly and clear­ly place behind cam­pus work­ers’ strug­gles, and orga­ni­za­tions like Movimien­to Estu­di­antil Chicano/a de Azt­lan (MEChA) places the pol­i­tics of a large pro­por­tion of the cam­pus work­er and stu­dent pop­u­la­tion at the cen­ter. Our empha­sis on stu­dent move­ment issues, built from our piv­otal posi­tion between fac­ul­ty and under­grad­u­ates, as well as between stu­dent and labor orga­niz­ers, may be one of the key lega­cies of AWDU.

As the UC exper­i­ments with new approach­es to uni­ver­si­ty secu­ri­ty, we need even more cre­ativ­i­ty. Strikes, cam­pus shut­downs, and occu­pa­tions have been fre­quent occur­rences at UCSC; part of our dis­cus­sions now will be direct­ed towards dis­cov­er­ing new tac­tics that can change the polit­i­cal ter­rain.

Since 2010, the UCSC cam­pus has been shut down numer­ous times. The first of the­se shut­downs was orga­nized by grad­u­ate and under­grad­u­ate stu­dents, and caused a mas­sive change in the UCSC cul­ture. The strike took over three months of inten­sive orga­niz­ing, by which activists col­lect­ed over 2,400 com­mit­ments to join the line. Stu­dents report­ed that near­ly 1,000 peo­ple showed up through­out the day, and the cam­pus was closed by virtue of the­se over­whelm­ing num­bers. The next strike, in 2012, was also stu­dent-orga­nized. It required 2,000 com­mit­ments, brought out approx­i­mate­ly 600 peo­ple, and became one of the piv­otal actions in the spring fol­low­ing Occu­py that pushed the state towards Propo­si­tion 30. UCSC’s new Exec­u­tive Vice Chan­cel­lor Alison Gal­loway decid­ed to let it hap­pen with­out police inter­ven­tion.

In the past year, with AFSCME and the UAW both in nego­ti­a­tions, strikes have become labor-focused, and legal­ly con­strained in new ways. Instead of grad­u­ate and under­grad­u­ate coali­tions hold­ing the cam­pus shut, as in pre­vi­ous strikes, the clos­ing work has now shift­ed entire­ly to under­grads, while grad­u­ate stu­dents – hin­dered by Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Board reg­u­la­tions pro­hibit­ing unions from block­ing com­merce – walk a mov­ing pick­et. But the cul­ture had been estab­lished, both on the side of stu­dent activists who felt that a total shut­down was pos­si­ble, and admin­is­tra­tors who thought it was inevitable and were will­ing to con­cede a day’s labor to keep the peace. In this con­text, a cam­pus shut­down was accom­plished in fall 2013 – very ear­ly in the year – with only 1,000 com­mit­ments to walk the line. It was thin, but enough for the moment.

Then there were three oth­er strike threats, and man­age­ment caved each time. AFSCME’s two unions each set­tled their con­tracts on the eve of five-day statewide strikes – both nego­ti­a­tions con­clud­ed with­in a hair’s breadth of pick­et­ing. The third was a griev­ance strike planned at UCSC by UAW, in respon­se to two griev­ances. The first griev­ance involved 28 under­grad­u­ates who were hired for posi­tions equiv­a­lent to a grad­u­ate teach­ing assis­tant, but were only paid a quar­ter of what is required by our con­tract. The sec­ond involved TAs who were sched­uled for an excess of class time, which made it impos­si­ble for them to fit their labor with­in the con­trac­tu­al lim­it. Again, at the last min­ute, the UC avert­ed a strike by essen­tial­ly agree­ing to all of the union’s demands, and we can­celled the strike because we won. We won $6,000 per quar­ter in back pay for each of the­se under­grad­u­ate work­ers, the TA class­room hours were reduced to a rea­son­able lim­it, and the uni­ver­si­ty agreed to set up a joint Labor-Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee to over­see work­load con­cerns.

But the bal­ance of opin­ion among the admin­is­tra­tion had shift­ed. When we final­ly called an Unfair Labor Prac­tices strike start­ing on April 2, with only 400 com­mit­ments for a whole day’s pick­et, at 6 a.m. the line was less robust than nec­es­sary to effec­tive­ly coun­ter the 30 riot police brought in.

Over­com­ing the­se chal­lenges will take hard work and advance plan­ning – we need to pre­pare for actions over peri­ods of months and years, and we need to knock on every office door to sign up thou­sands of par­tic­i­pants. But we also need to explore new orga­ni­za­tion­al prac­tices. How much fur­ther can coali­tions can be extend­ed – can grad­u­ate stu­dent union­iza­tion efforts at urban uni­ver­si­ties link up with fast food and retail strik­ers to gen­er­ate new and dynam­ic kinds of orga­ni­za­tions and actions? It is increas­ing­ly clear that the pro­fes­sion­al life that uni­ver­si­ties have trained stu­dents for over the last half cen­tu­ry is dis­ap­pear­ing. So uni­ver­si­ty unions are part of a move­ment to con­nect grad­u­ate stu­dent work­ers and our under­grad­u­ate allies to the a broad­er pol­i­tics of labor, rather than to an ever more fic­tion­al mid­dle class. Our strug­gles are not just the strug­gles of those on uni­ver­si­ty grounds, but are inter­twined with work­ers through­out the cities and towns we live in.

We may also be rethink­ing our under­stand­ing of pow­er. Just because San­ta Cruz geog­ra­phy allows a direct and com­plete shut­down, is this the only, or the best means for stu­dents to rad­i­cal­ize a com­mu­ni­ty and build work­ers’ pow­er? It may be. But in the last strike stu­dents also began to exper­i­ment with oth­er forms of col­lec­tive action, dif­fer­ent­ly dis­rup­tive, more fleet­ing, but also more labile, and per­haps sim­i­lar­ly effec­tive. The­se are open ques­tions. We hope that we will be able to learn from oth­er orga­ni­za­tions that emerge across the uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem as we plan and orga­nize our own polit­i­cal futures.

Authors of the article

is an editor of Viewpoint.

is a graduate student and academic worker at UC Santa Cruz, and an activist in UAW 2865.

is a graduate student and academic worker at UC Santa Cruz, and an activist in UAW 2865.