This Monday morning, the 14th, 48,000 education workers, graduate students, postdocs, academic researchers and teaching assistants, represented by the UAW (United Auto Workers in English) throughout the University of California, went on strike. This comes after more than a year of failed negotiations, during which the UAW filed nearly 30 unfair labor practice complaints against the university.
It marks the first time post-docs have gone on strike in US history, and the largest strike in California in 10 years. Activists are in a strong position with strong polling in all precincts. The strike has been further strengthened with solidarity strike calls for Teamsters (truckers) organized on University of California (UC) campuses and construction workers not allowed to cross picket lines on campus.
On the UC San Diego campus, hundreds of activists joined the picket where the energy was overwhelming and defiant. The UC administration tried to negotiate till the last minute to avoid the strike, but their offers did not match with the demands of the employees. University professors are fighting for a fair contract, with broad demands centered on pay increases that account for inflation.
Statewide, 90% of graduate workers and more than 60% of postdocs are burdened with rent. Last year, the University of California San Diego (UCSD) increased student housing rents by up to 85%, meaning some students put up to 75% of their income toward housing. Additionally, in a state with very little public transportation, and tackling climate change becoming more urgent, access to reliable transportation and increased investment in bicycle infrastructure are key demands of the union. Longer appointments are also needed for workers, with postdocs and academic researchers often in precarious jobs and unable to face abusive labor practices because of these short contracts.
These appalling conditions for education workers, and the University of California’s reluctance to pay them, are the result of neoliberal austerity policies that cut funding for education and forced universities to rely on tuition and private investment. In fact, public funding for universities is at an all-time low. Therefore, this fight for better material conditions is important, but without structural change, workers will eventually find themselves under pressure again. As the fighting spirit of workers grows across the country, the demands must move from economic demands towards political change.
UC workers are not alone in their fight for better working conditions. With right-to-strike negotiations underway at Temple University, The New School, and the University of Michigan, all eyes are on the UC strike. What happens here will set a precedent for the struggles of university employees across the country.