In Santa Cruz, our situation has become desperate. At one point, several graduate students in a single department at UC Santa Cruz were sleeping in their offices—they either lived too far to drive home after teaching an evening class or had nowhere else to sleep. Others were sleeping in cars. Another graduate student was evicted. Some grad students with children had almost no money for child care. For years, countless other grad students have had to make tough decisions between prioritizing health care or buying groceries. In late December, we collected hundreds of other anonymous stories from graduate students, which we sent directly to the chancellor’s office, passing along tales of grad students’ developing mental and physical health issues because of housing precarity and falling devastatingly behind in the research we came here to do, all because of our poverty wages.
But despite this and repeated calls from both students and faculty for the UCSC administration to meet with striking graduate student workers, administrators have refused to come to the table.
Because of this, today we are launching an indefinite wildcat strike. With support from hundreds of undergraduate students, professors, and other workers across campus, UC Santa Cruz grad students will be canceling regular teaching, grading, office hours, and research until UC administrators meet our demand for a monthly increase of $1,412 per month.
Many of us spend more than 50 percent of our monthly wages on rent. For years, graduate student workers have participated in committees and made pleas to the administration through formal channels. Since November, we have been presenting our demand for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to administrators, telling them exactly how hard it is for us to survive in Santa Cruz. The university knows this—it has conducted its own studies into the impact of the cost of living on students, but still refuses to act. We have been saying for months that a COLA cannot wait and that we will not wait. So today, we move ahead to a full strike.
Instead of meeting with us, administrators have repeatedly threatened retaliation. Last week, Chancellor Cynthia Larive sent an email to announce that all PhD and MFA students would receive five years of guaranteed funding (at the current pay rate), and that a “need-based” housing supplement of $2,500 annually would be instituted “until more graduate-level student housing becomes available.”
These plans do not even begin to address the severe financial insecurity in which all graduate students currently live. They come nowhere near our demand to no longer live with rent burden. Unsurprisingly, this same e-mail was coupled with the most direct and specific threat of retaliation yet, including “suspension without pay, non-reappointment, or dismissal from employment.” Grads began to receive disciplinary summons and written warnings for their participation in the strike. We are deeply insulted and angered by this. It shows us that the administration is unwilling to take our struggles seriously; instead, it is trying to threaten and punish us into compliance.
But we will not be intimidated, and we will not stop striking until we win. We have conducted meetings upon organizational meetings, inside and outside departments, between and across divisions, at this campus and on a cross-campus basis. We withheld 12,000 grades last quarter, and we are prepared to do so again. In January, we collectively took one of our two contractually protected sick days—a “sick-out”—canceling classes across campus. We attended the UC Regents meeting to make clear that our fight is growing.
Among graduate student workers and undergraduates, staff, lecturers, faculty, and campus workers, our campus has come together in solidarity to shut the UC down. As graduate student workers, we are familiar with the dismal living and working conditions that the UC provides, and we see that so many other workers here share in our struggle.
The extent of our broad-based organizational effort means that we have accomplished more in the past 10 weeks than in the past 10 years of political activity on our campus. We have built networks of workers and students throughout our campus and across the state who are ready to act. The administration, witnessing this with characteristic chagrin, continues to fall back on a hollow strategy of threats and reprisals. These threats have only continued to motivate us all to fight the UC now, and win.
On our picket line, we will hold teach-ins, workshops, and spaces for study, rest, and care. We will collaborate with our students, our teachers, and our fellow workers to imagine what the university will be like, if only we take control of it. There is a profound desire to transform the oppressive system forcing graduate students into dire and painful situations. When we are met with the familiar insistence that there is “no money” available to relieve our rent burden, to eliminate tuition fees, or to provide free housing, we know that it’s a question of priorities. Napolitano made this clear when she tucked away $175 million from public scrutiny.
Administrators have consistently claimed that we don’t understand how it all works, forgetting that we are experts in how it doesn’t. The wreckage of this system is vast and diverse: This strike mounts a challenge to the entire structure of administration.
So today, we are entering a new phase in the movement. The strike commenced with a picket line at 7:30 am at the entrance to the UCSC campus. And we will not be alone: our labor militancy has helped spawn an intercampus graduate student movement for a cost-of-living adjustment: COLA rallies and marches will also take place at several UC campuses including Santa Barbara, Davis, Berkeley, San Diego, and Los Angeles, where students have begun demanding their own COLA.
At a February 6 rally organized by the People’s Coalition, an organization of undergraduate students, dozens marched through the campus, and concluded with a shared meal, poetry readings, speeches, and flowers. One sign read: “The Regents Are Rats and the COLA Wildcats Are Gonna Eat ’Em.” And we are. Along with so many other workers and students across the state, we’re hungry.
To learn more about the UCSC graduate student worker wildcat strike, visit www.payusmoreucsc.com, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram @payusmoreucsc. You can get in touch with us at [email protected]. If you are able, consider donating to our strike fund here.