Jessica T., UAW Local 2865 unit chair for UC Berkeley, on the scene and taking the lead in the Bay sends this report.
Yesterday was a statewide day of action in California to fight the privatization of the UC system, to demand the refunding of public schools at all levels, to stand in solidarity with UC workers who have lost their jobs or been furloughed, and to demand the UC Regents roll back the 32% fee hike that they approved in November. There are multiple fronts in this struggle, and therefore many different activist groups have taken on various aspects of the fight. At UC Berkeley we have a lot of organizing by students of color around the fact that the proposed increases will disproportionately affect them and their families, in addition to speaking out against the racist incidents at UCSD and UC Davis in the past weeks. The unions on campus have been active in tying to raise awareness of the fact that the budget cuts are not only affecting their members personally, but that the cuts will impact the quality of education that all students will receive in the near future at Berkeley, the so-called “crown jewel” of the UCs..
The UAW local 2865 is the union that represents 12,000 graduate student instructors (GSIs), readers and tutors in the UC system. We, along with the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC), which also counts many union members among its ranks, have been organizing here on campus to turn out people for the March 4th Day of Action. We set up an informational table in the beginning of the week to distribute information to grad students and undergrads about why we were asking students to walk out on March 4th. We had some interesting and challenging conversations and reactions from people on campus. There were two difficult (and frustrating) things that came out of the interactions. First, there was the opinion that this activism was directly “interfering” with students’ education. This is more easily addressed (and we did create some fliers and raps to fight this notion) than the second hurdle. We heard from many grad students that in the “hard” sciences like Chemistry, Physics, etc., there is a pervasive feeling that “this is not their fight” because they receive the bulk of their funding from federal sources like the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. This seems to be the mood despite this letter sent last year to the Governor from concerned scientists working in the UC system. (Not to mention industry, which has been another problem here at Berkeley that many of us have been battling for years.) This is something that needs to be addressed, and myself and another geographer had a heated discussion with and Economics professor yesterday over this very issue. We need to draw more people into the movement from the sciences are willing to try to convince their colleagues of the selfishness and ignorance of this kind of thinking. The sciences alone do not make a university. But, the sciences drive industry, and now more than ever at Berkeley, what kind of science is being done is being influenced by multinational corporations like BP, and Novartis, who in their race for patents that will make them billions of dollars, run roughshod over the global South.
In the streets and on campus yesterday we sent a loud message that was heard in Sacramento. We have (another) actor-as-governor in California, and Mr. Freeze is playacting the concerned leader, crying poverty and telling the people that government has to make tough choices over the budget shortfall. As the crowds gathered yesterday our protest moved into the street, where we met the Boalt Law School students who marched down Bancroft to meet us at Telegraph Avenue. The crowd gathered momentum and was buzzing with energy as we marched toward Oakland. One of the most poignant moments of the march came when we passed Willard Middle School in Berkeley, where the students were waving frantically from windows and balconies two stories above the street. They cheered us on, and many of us in the crowd started shouting greetings to the students. I got on the bullhorn and yelled that we were marching for them! “You are our future!”, we shouted. Some of the kids came out and joined the march all the way to Oakland! Members of the community joined us, clapped for us, pumped their fists and cheered. We were about 1,500 strong when we got to Frank Ogawa Plaza in the heart of downtown. There, hundreds of Oakland public school students were gathered for a rally, and it was announced on the mic that UC Berkeley had arrived. As the crowd roared, we marched up to merge into their ranks.
Many of the UAW contingent left the rally after about a half hour to regroup and talk about the day over a pint (but not before talking with the I.W.W.!). We were unaware of the takeover of the 880 freeway, and I have been getting messages that many of the 100 or so who were arrested are being released today. On a UAW conference call this morning I heard from organizers at UC Santa Cruz how they were able to shut down the entire campus, despite the administration’s wacky plans to “sneak” professors and other workers onto campus using vans and side entrances. We were not able to shut the campus down at Berkeley, but we sure did disrupt business as usual. The UCSC picket was 300 strong at 5 am! The early bird catches the worm, I guess. Organizers are meeting today on campus to collectively decide how we want to move forward to beat back the neoliberalization of our public higher education system. Our state is not the only one facing this. I know there were protests worldwide yesterday. We stand in solidarity with all students, educators, and community members in the struggle. Education is a right we will fight for.