Another look at the UCSC campaign for a cost of living allowance
In December of 2019 graduate students and teaching assistants at the University of California Santa Cruz went on a strike for better pay to help ease rent burden. “Rent burden” is defined by housing scholars as spending more than 30% of wages on rent, and these teaching assistants and students are spending 50-60% of their wages on rent in one of the least affordable countries in the world. In September 2019, organizers for the Graduate Student’s Association, United Auto Workers Local 2865, and people across campus began calling for a Cost of Living Allowance. The demand has been repeatedly presented to UCSC administration without equivocations. They demand: a COLA for every graduate student, regardless of residence, visa, documentation, employment or funding status, to bring us out of rent burden without raising tuition or campus fees, and with a guarantee of non-retaliation. At current rates, this amounts to an additional monthly payment of $1,412. The Grad students who were actively bargaining with the administration in November demonstrated with a march to Kerr Hall and then a camp-out on the campus. On December 6th a poll was given to the students to see if they were ready to strike. Nearly 80% of teaching assistants working on grades voted yes and one hundred students not working on grades voted to strike. Out of 450 responses to the strike poll, 350 voted they were ready.
December 8th, Strike Assembly
Over 250 graduate students attended the strike committee meeting, which organized and announced only twenty-four hours prior. A vast majority of students voted to strike immediately and to withhold their final grade submissions. On December 10th, over two hundred grads, undergrads, faculty, and lecturers, rallied for an open meeting with administration — specifically with their Vice Provost Quentin Williams, who had previously promised to engage with the COLA campaign. They did not show up and later sent a message that they refused to meet with the strikers on bogus grounds. So the strike went on and when the grade submission deadline came on the 18th they were not submitted and grades had to be delayed for the fall semester. After circulating a poll via email the previous week — with 859 respondents — the results were released, showing that winter quarter graduate students had also voted to withhold grades and perform a sick out on the 22nd to protest the Regents Day activities in San Francisco, where all had called out sick to attend. This wildcat strike is effectively using memes and social media to their advantage, the term “COLA” is quickly becoming a well-known term in the brains of the labor movement, the outreach they are receiving is proof that this mass social media strategy works — especially for wild cat strikers. The strike is still going strong, no grades are in, and on Thursday, January 30th, 178 grads voted to go on a full student strike, to be held on February 10th. These brave students have inspired more to pick up their cause for COLA and a COLA4ALL campaign has been organized! The strong will of these hard-working students is very much taking root as they work with organizers to develop solidarity in the academic community and work on plans for direct action, like doing a hall takeover. The wildcat strikers are developing a strike fund to help keep this momentum alive, so please support these folks taking the labor movement to a brave new place. I urge you to stand in solidarity with these amazing students who are fighting for a better tomorrow for all!