Thousands join UC walkout

Todd Chretien rounds up reports from the statewide walkout of faculty, staff and students at the University of California system campuses.

Some 4,000 students, faculty and staff demonstrated on Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley on the day of the walkout  (Jonathan Nuñez | SW)Some 4,000 students, faculty and staff demonstrated on Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley on the day of the walkout (Jonathan Nuñez | SW)

THOUSANDS OF students, faculty and campus workers walked out of classes and off their jobs September 24 at the 10 campuses of the University of California (UC) system to protest draconian budget cuts, in one of the biggest statewide mobilizations since the May 1, 2006 immigrants rights marches.

Faculty members sparked the action after UC President Mark Yudof unilaterally decided on how furloughs to save the system money would be implemented. More than 1,000 professors pledged not to teach and timed their action to coincide with a one-day unfair labor practices strike called by the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union.

Yudof has also imposed big tuition hikes and plans another 32 percent increase in student fees for next fall. The hikes will drive many working class and immigrant students--with students of color disproportionately overrepresented among them--out of school.

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-- At UC Berkeley, the oldest campus in the system, Sproul Plaza--the historic site of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s--was the site of the largest rally of the day, with 4,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community supporters chanting "Whose university? Our university!"

One faculty member gave a sense of the cuts in basic services that students will face face this year: "If you needed to study in the library on the weekend...you should think again, for libraries at UC Berkeley cannot afford to be open on Saturday or Sunday, unlike those of the University of Mississippi and Alaska."

Kathryn Lybarger, a gardener on campus and member of AFSCME Local 3299, explained to the rally crowd how service workers are being treated. "Last week," she said, "the university, in the spirit of 'sharing the pain,' saw fit to lay off 34 custodians--that's a quarter of the people who clean the campus. If anyone here thinks a custodian laid off last week will find a job this week--hell no! If you think these custodians' families can do without that paycheck--hell no!"

Jerry, a UCB English student currently taking 14 units and working 20 hours a week said, "I've decided to take time off from work this semester to take more classes, but if they raise fees, I won't be able to continue going to school."

Lonnie, a UCB student working on getting a master's degree in social work, said she remembers what the state used to look like under Govs. Earl Warren and Pat Brown, back when higher education was free at public schools. As she said:

We're so far off from where we were 40 years ago when the UC was free. Now, they've instituted a $10,000 professional certification fee for graduates who want to go into social work. This type of fee usually exists for law students and other professional students, but for social workers? We're not rich, and we aren't getting our degree to make money. It's a devastating blow to our side.

Sue Bainbridge, a member of the UPTE union, explained the issues in the one-day staff strike:

We want UC to sit down at the bargaining table and to give us the respect that we deserve. We want them to give us job security. We want them to reinstate everyone who's been laid off since July and to reverse the priorities of the university.

-- At UC Santa Cruz, over 500 students, faculty and staff walked out and picketed the main entrance to the school before marching through campus. As this report was being compiled, a small group of students began an occupation of the Graduate Student Commons, supported by 250 supporters who had just received word that police were on their way.

-- At UC San Diego, the day started with 75 members and supporters of UPTE picketing the main gates of campus, chanting, "Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight, get up stand up, health care is our right!" They were joined in solidarity by members of UNITE HERE Local 30, who have been boycotting the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego over many of the same issues facing campus workers.

At noon, in one of the biggest demonstrations in decades, more than 1,000 students, faculty and staff marched through campus, entering classroom buildings, including Peterson Hall, to call other students out to the protest.

The demonstrators proceeded to the administration building, which they found locked up tight--so the protest circled it several times, chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, Chancellor Yudof's got to go!"

-- At UCLA, approximately 700 students, faculty and members of campus unions rallied on Bruin Plaza and then marched to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block's office to present a resolution from the Undergraduate Students Association Council.

When told the Chancellor wouldn't meet with them, a group of about 60 students staged a sit-in, demanding a town hall-style public meeting where the chancellor would disclose details of the budget and discuss it with the all members of the university community. Eventually, an agreement was reached for a meeting to be held soon.

The USAC resolution called for students to participate in the UC-wide walkout; for "no furloughs or salary reductions [to be] imposed on those who make less than $40,000"; and for full disclosure and transparency in the UC budget and decision-making. It further opposed the 9.3 percent fee increase for the 2009-2010 academic year and called a proposed mid-year fee increase "contradictory to the UC's dedication to accessibility."

Campus unions represented at the demonstration included UPTE-CWA Local 9119, AFSCME Local 3299 and UC-AFT.

Sondra Hale, a professor in the Department of Anthropology and Women's Studies, told the crowd:

This is not a budget crisis, it's a crisis of priorities. It's not a coincidence that the programs they are targeting for cuts are programs like ethnic studies, women's studies, LGBT studies, peace studies...In the meantime, not only are the military research departments exempt from cuts, but more money will be coming into the university for military and intelligence research. They are de-funding public education.

-- At UC Irvine, a crowd of 1,000 turned out for a rally to mark the walkout, and at UC Riverside, some 300 people gathered to hear faculty members and students speak out.

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SOLIDARITY ACTIONS spread beyond the UC system as well.

About 75 students at San Francisco State University took part in a speakout to denounce budget cuts, fee hikes and the elimination of hundreds of classes.

Up to 100 students, faculty and staff at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) participated in a lively protest organized to coincide with the one-day walkout in the UC system. This was the first action of its type this semester at CCSF, where 900 classes have already been cut, tuition has increased by 30 percent, and campus workers are being asked to accept concessions.

Outside of California, students, faculty and staff rallied together in front of the administration building at the University of Arizona, in a rally organized by the group Arizona for Education.

The rally began with "Arizona, bear down!" played by volunteers from the marching band, and over 100 people held handmade signs. When classes changed, students passing by joined the rally to listen to the speakers and the size of the rally doubled.

The university's planned shift to a "five-year undergraduate program" promises to cause further frustration, not to mention increase the cost for students completing their degrees.

Back at the UC Berkeley rally, AFSCME Local 3299's Lybarger underlined the bitterness of UC workers and students at the way they've been treated:

If the man driving these cuts was not a man making almost a million dollars a year and living in a mansion at the top of the hill that all of us pays $11,000 a month for--and if, before coming to us and telling us to share the pain, they had first shared the wealth, then we might have had something to talk about.

Now we have something to fight about.

After the layoffs and furloughs and fee hikes, you could say--and you would be right to say--that we're the victims of these cuts. But we can't leave it there. We are the front line of this fight, and we are preparing to win it!

Emily Caruso, Brian Cruz, James Dolittle, Rick Greenblatt, James Illingworth, Cindy Kaffen, Rachel Morgain, Russell Stephens and Angela Stoutenburgh contributed to this article.