Graduate students at UCLA are set to go on a one-day strike Thursday. This comes in response to the firing of 82 graduate students who went on a wildcat strike for higher wages at UC Santa Cruz in December.
The UCSC teaching assistants have withheld grades since last fall and will continue to do so until their demand for a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, of $1,412 a month is met. The strikers had anticipated the firings as UCSC Interim Campus Provost Lori Kletzer stated her intent to retaliate if undergraduate grades were not submitted by Feb. 21.
Graduate students at UC Santa Barbara voted for a full teaching strike and UC Davis graduate students voted for a grading strike. UC Berkeley graduate students announced they will strike Thursday. Graduate students at other UCs are expected to make public their decisions on if they will strike.
During an open meeting at the steps of Fowler Hall, UCLA graduate students decided to call for the Thursday strike. Some graduate students expressed their worries about losing their jobs. These worries were addressed by speakers who noted that the very nature of a wildcat strike is different from that of a union strike as a wildcat strike is a small group of people powerfully withholding their labor to make a statement. They emphasized that the presence of a strike will organically grow the momentum around it.
The graduate student strikes are not endorsed by the union representing over 19,000 Academic Student Employees in the University of California system, United Auto Workers Local 2865, as the current union contract has a no-strike clause.
Despite this, the union is working toward a sanctioned unfair labor practice strike that needs membership authorization. In the meantime, the union and the UC administration have each filed unfair labor practice charges against the other through the California Public Employment Relations Board over their responses to the UCSC wildcat strike.
All day Thursday, strikers will form a picket line at Janss Steps where there will be a rally at noon. The strike entails graduate students and faculty canceling their classes, office hours and meetings or to plan on holding them at the picket line. Undergraduates are asked to show their solidarity through a walk-out of their classes. A campuswide email sent by Ucla4Cola on Monday night clarified that the point of the strike is to send a message to the UCLA administration. They reiterated their demands for an immediate COLA, the reinstatement of the fired UCSC strikers and the elimination of on-campus police.
Graduate students from across the UC system held rallies in support of the wildcat strikers over the past two weeks and have echoed demands for higher wages at their respective campuses. Last week UCLA graduate students organized a Student Solidarity Week.
Last Monday, graduate students distributed a petition for undergraduates called “We Want TAs to Withhold Our Grades.” So far, nearly 500 have signed onto it. The petition clarified that since the start of the strike last fall, TAs still graded the undergraduate students’ work and, on a case-by-case basis, submitted the grades of students who requested it with no questions asked.
The petition goes on to express frustration with the shared condition of food and housing insecurity faced by graduate and undergraduate students and how undergraduates are discouraged from enrolling in graduate school because of insufficient wages.
To highlight the issue of food insecurity on campus, students held a COLA meeting in Covel Commons Residential Restaurant last Tuesday. Students who joined the meeting were asked not to swipe in as a form of civil disobedience. UCLA administrators congregated at the entrance of the dining hall and the food stands to observe the students.
UCLA administrators threatened to take disciplinary measures against those who participated. UCPD sent five police cars and a motorcycle to the event. In addition, plainclothes individuals who refused to identify themselves were seen taking video of the students and then followed them as they exited the venue.
Students took to Twitter and Instagram to express their frustration that they were harassed in plain view of an overwhelming police presence and the administration.
Last Wednesday, undergraduate students were asked to bring their class-related work to Janss Steps as a show of the largely unrecognized labor of graduate students.
During the event, TAs graded exams, held office hours and invited their classes to the steps. The day after, graduate students hosted a forum to discuss the overlap between increased policing in the U.S. and the defunding of public education.
They focused on the plight of U.S. political prisoners, antiblackness, racism and their connection to the ongoing housing crisis. At UC Irvine, Shikera Chamday, a black UCI alumna, was arrested by UCIPD as she attempted to get her transcripts during a COLA rally on campus that she was not participating in. UCI Black Student Union and United Students Against Sweatshops issued a petition in support of Chamday stating, “The police operating on UCI’s campus problematizes the notion that the university is, in fact, a safe space to learn, think, and grow for Black students.”
A growing number of support letters have been issued from across the UC system and the U.S., including from various departments, faculty associations, student groups, unions and universities.
UCLA graduate students continue to grow the movement along with their peers across the UC system.
Graduate students across the UC are striking as part of their demand for a cost-of-living adjustment. The author of this op-ed is a member of Ucla4Cola and has requested anonymity because of fear of retaliation from the university.