An Open Letter to Members of UAW Local 2865

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are members of the UAW Bargaining Team that recently reached tentative agreement on a contract with the UC.  This agreement will be put to ratification vote during the week of November 29.  We want to urge members of our units, as well as members at other campuses statewide, to VOTE NO on ratification. The proposed agreement is not a victory (despite the cheerleading tone of the email announcement to members), but represents a significant failure by our union’s leadership.

The first thing you should know is that the tentative agreement is not endorsed by the entire Bargaining Team—including a significant minority who cast votes against it.  In fact, no Bargaining Team member from Berkeley or Santa Cruz signed the final agreement—a first in the history of our Local.  Nor does the email recommendation for a “YES vote” represent the position of the full Bargaining Team.  Let us be clear: a number of Bargaining Team members, ourselves included, recommend that you VOTE NO on the tentative agreement.

This is why:

First, we want to make it clear that there was very little danger of concessions in this contract negotiation.  From the very beginning of bargaining, UC offered few proposals that would have revoked rights or benefits from our current contract.  They only pursued one concession seriously to the end of negotiations (a reduction in UC-provided compensation for Bargaining Team members).  While it is important that we managed to protect this provision of our current contract, it is misleading to trumpet our achievement in “stav[ing] off any concessions.”  The threat of major concessions, financial or otherwise, was NEVER on the table.

The two “major” achievements of this tentative agreement are the 2% annual wage increase and the increase in the childcare reimbursement to $600/quarter.  As you probably know, these numbers are inadequate: the 2% increase does not even match the projected 3% inflation rate for the next three years1 and, as many of our colleagues have explained to us, childcare in many UC cities can cost up to $1000 PER MONTH.  As for the new provision that guarantees us a wage increase above 2% if UC’s state budget allocation increases over the 2007-08 level?  That language is the closest thing to an actual joke that you will find in our contract.  You can read all of these provisions of the tentative agreement here. (more…)

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As the UCSC administration continues to retaliate against activists through bogus “voluntary restitution” charges and arbitrary judicial sanctions, the activist community finds itself in need of financial support. Learn more about the newly-created UC Activist Defense Fund here. Share this link with your friends!

This weekend, our comrades at the University of Minnesota have organized a remarkable conference. “Beneath the University, the Commons” is the third in a series of annual conferences bringing together theorists and activists from universities around the world to discuss our struggles against the neoliberal privatization of the university.

UC Santa Cruz sent a large contingent this year (including yours truly)–comprising two full panels.  Although all the panels so far have been fascinating and provocative, if you are particularly interested in the UC (or UCSC), I would recommend you watch these two archived panels:
“The Weight of Past Generations II”: Brian Malone, Kate Woolsey and Madeline McDonald Lane from UCSC.

“Critical Considerations of the Student Movement in California”: Kyle McKinley, Erin Ellison, and Don Kingsbury (UCSC) plus Robert Wood (UC Irvine) (sadly, half of Kyle’s presentation is cut off due to technical difficulties!)

Also, if you are interested in hearing about March 4 at the University of Washington, as well as their potential upcoming TA strike, you will want to watch Cindy Gorn’s presentation on this panel.

You can watch the conference live stream here.

Check out the conference homepage here.

On behalf of all of my UCSC comrades, I would like to thank the U of M organizers for an amazing weekend!

With impeccable timing, the UC Regents met during UC’s Spring Break last week at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus.  On Tuesday, the main agenda item was the report from the UC’s Commission on the Future, aka the Gould Commission (named after subprime mortgage profiteer Russell Gould).  The recommendations offered by the Gould Commission are absolutely stunning (and you can read all about them here).  As Jonathan Dettman nicely summarized (on Twitter):

UC Regents’ grand vision for the future resembles nothing so much as turning the UC into the world’s most expensive diploma mill.

However, before anyone on this blog provides a sustained critique of Gould/Yudof’s vision for the (non)future of the UC, I want to tell you about what it was like to be present at the Regents meeting on Tuesday.

Students and workers protest outside the Regents' meeting.

First things first: if you haven’t been to UCSF Mission Bay campus, you may sometimes wonder where all our fees are going.  Once you’ve seen the sparkling new campus (that looks as if it sprung up overnight), however, you’ll understand the concrete (pun intended) consequences of privatization.  Indeed, on the morning of the Regents’ meeting, we gathered on the Bank of America Terrace just off the Koret Quad across from Genentech Hall.

Even though it was Spring Break throughout the UC, several dedicated organizers from UC Santa Cruz and Berkeley put together a picket and rally outside the meeting itself.  In addition, AFSCME and UPTE had significant turnout from UCSC and Berkeley.  Students drove up from UCLA and Irvine.  And, perhaps most powerfully, a teacher from Oakland Tech High School brought a class of her students to demand that the Regents take steps to increase racial diversity in admissions!  At the height of the picket, around 11:30 AM, there were 150 students, teachers, and workers chanting outside the meeting (in addition to a significant number of students and workers inside the room).  From 11 AM until 1 PM, the crowd managed to keep up a nearly constant chanting that observers report was very audible inside the meeting.

There was certainly a remarkably large presence of UC cops, but even so, I think that they were caught off guard by such a large number of protestors.  I suspect that UCSF police are not nearly as experienced when it comes to protests as their counterparts on undergraduate campuses and there was clear nervousness (as well as compensating postures of toughness).  At first, the officer in charge told us that we couldn’t protest outside the meeting at all because the sound would be too disruptive and he threatened to arrest us.  Later, the same officer threatened arrests for trespassing for protestors who were gathering in another part of the building.  I believe that it was only the presence of an intrepid observer from the National Lawyers Guild (with a videocamera) that prevented some police from over-reacting on this day.

"My other sign is a torch"

One performance highlight of the early afternoon was the creation of a giant air-filled black cube that Irvine students had made by ironing together trash bags.  They filled the cube with air using a fan and were in the process of spray painting slogans on all of the sides.  One side said “Chop from the Top”; another said “Fuck the Regents.”  However, during the spray-painting, the cube started to (inexplicably, to observers) float away.  As it continued to rise above the buildings, we realized that the sealed black balloon on a sunny day had become the equivalent of a hot air balloon.  Last we saw, it was floating several hundred feet in the air, heading south.  (Did it make it to the airport?  Did it land in the Bay?  Is it in Outer Space?)

The Irvine "Cube"

"Chop from the Top"

Oops.

Goodbye!

When the time for Public Comment Period arrived, however, things started to get nasty.  Those of us who remained outside the room gathered against the barricades outside the windows so that Yudof and the Regents would have to see us.  The police protection was stepped up.  This photograph from the Daily Californian pretty much sums up what “Public” Comment Period was like for most of the “public” that was there.

The relationship between the UC and the "Public."

Public Comment Period was also pretty grim for those who were inside the room.  Audio was provided for those of us outside through speakers (how kind!), so we could hear the comments.  It was a farce.  And a fascist one at that.  The admin began by announcing that because the Gould Commission presentations had run over, there would only be fifteen minutes for public comment (instead of the scheduled thirty).  Twenty speakers were chosen from the list (although at least thirty had signed up to speak) and they were told that they would each have less than a minute to address the Regents.  A beeper was set to go off when they reached the end of their remarks.  In practice, if the speaker exceeded her minute, the microphone was taken away; if the the speaker continued to talk, she was physically removed from the room by security goons in suits.  Outside, we heard one student, as she was trying to finish her comment, yell “Get your hands off me!”  Several other speakers were cut short.  The comments were impressive: sharp, sometimes angry, but always well-informed and constructive.  I am told that UC President Mark G. Yudof smirked throughout.  Many of the other Regents, I am told, acted appalled–presumably not by the strong-arm security, but rather by the hubris of students and workers addressing them as equals.  At the end of the question period, Yudof and the Regents slunk away behind a line of police officers with batons, smilingly impervious to the chants of “Shame on you!” from the students they are supposedly serving.

Although I was present at the UCLA Regents’ Meeting in November (the one where police pointed shotguns into the crowds of students), I found this meeting to be almost equally demonstrative of the UC’s current mode of operation.  At this point, any gesture that Yudof and the Regents make toward the “public” (and in this I am including students, faculty, and workers, in addition to the people of California) is merely theatrical and entirely empty.  Sometimes it’s “good” theater (like when they manage to keep protestors away during press conferences or “public” forums); sometimes it’s “bad” theater (like when the goons in the suits get a little too aggressive).  However, this type of theater only works when most people do not recognize its theatricality.  Which, I would suggest, gives us something to think about for the next Regents’ meeting in May.

The key to the success of March 4 at UCSC was in the details–the details of organizing.  James Illingworth explains how we did it in “What we learned on March 4.”

(via Socialist Worker)

But the strike pledge campaign was by far the most important aspect of outreach for March 4. For six weeks leading up to the strike, members of the Strike Committee went out all day, every day, and asked students to sign on to a pledge in support of the action. This gave us the opportunity to convince people that a strike would be possible, necessary and effective.

By the eve of March 4, we had collected around 2,000 signatures on the strike pledge and had talked to thousands more students about the plan for the day. We started to get a sense that this was going to be one of the biggest protests in UCSC’s recent history.

Read the full article.

[This is a transcript of remarks delivered at the noon rally at the base of campus.]

My name is Brian Malone and I’m really happy to see all of you today!  On behalf of UAW 2865—the Teaching Assistants union—I’m so glad to see so many of our members, our students, our mentors, and our co-workers out here on this gorgeous day!

Last week, you probably received an email from Chancellor Blumenthal and EVC Kliger about today’s events here at UCSC.  You may remember the email because of the apparently unironic inclusion of the following sentence: “UC Santa Cruz has a long history of passionate participation in the democratic process.”  Alas, if only we could say the same for the UC Santa Cruz Administration…

But I am more interested in another part of this letter, the by-now familiar reference to UCSC’s “Principles of Community”—a reference that seems to appear in every administration statement about student protests.  Well, by bringing up the Principles of Community, the Chancellor and EVC got me thinking–thinking about what kind of community I want to see here at UCSC.  And while the current Principles of Community statement is a fine document in many ways, it’s actually pretty vague about most of the things that I think are crucial for a community like ours.  So, in the next few minutes, I’d like to sketch out some better Principles of Community–principles that we can aim for as we work to re-imagine OUR university.

First, we need to do more thinking about how to make this a community constituted not by economic privilege or social power.  Let’s just agree up front that we cannot be charging $10,000 in tuition to join this community.  You should not have to take on crushing debt to come to the UC.  You should not have to be working full time while you struggle to get your education.  Our university must be affordable.

Equally important is diversity.  We cannot have a community without full inclusion and participation of racial and ethnic minorities.  But let me be clear here: while the UC pats itself on the back for its supposed attention to diversity, OUR university needs to go several steps further.  We need to consider race and ethnicity in admissions again.  We need to expand retention programs.  We need to change the campus climate.  We need an ethnic studies program!  And if someone violates the safety of our community with hate speech, we need to do more than to punish the perpetrator: we need to restructure the institution itself to prevent it from happening again.  Our community must be as diverse as California itself and our students must be safe.

Here are some other principles of community for OUR university:

–Workers, students, and faculty must be given a full democratic share in campus decision-making.  Our university will have true shared governance.

–Teaching must be re-prioritized as a primary focus.  Our university will not cut instruction to fill budget gaps.

–Speaking of budgets, OUR university will be financially accountable and transparent.

–OUR university will restore funding to departments and programs that do not bring in corporate money:  departments like Literature, History, Philosophy, History of Consciousnesss and Languages.

–And finally, OUR university will not deploy administrators and police officers to surveil and intimidate student activists.  Our administrators will not belittle the concerns of student protesters or refer to their protests as a “luxury”–a luxury indeed, might I note, as most protesters here today are paying tens of thousands of dollars for their education.

Of course, maybe outlining these new Principles of Community makes me hopelessly utopian.  Maybe I’ve lost touch with that “reality” that legislators and administrators (and even, sadly, some of our classmates and coworkers) enjoy invoking so much.  Maybe the community I’m asking us to envision is too far away–in space and in time.

But, on the other hand, maybe we’re closer to it than we think.  Look around.  Here we are, thousands of people standing up for public education–surrounded, in California and beyond, by hundreds of thousands more doing exactly the same thing.  This might not yet be the University Community that we want; but as we stand here together today, it’s not so hard to imagine it.

So as we continue this struggle, let’s keep our ideal community in mind.  And let’s remember that today gave us just a glimpse of what it will be like.

Thank you for coming.