|Written by Jamie & Juan|
|Friday, 28 October 2011 23:41|
|CAMPUS ACTIVISTS COLLABORATE TO FORM THE PUBLIC EDUCATION COALITION.
The 2010-2011 academic year did not have the mass student participation of the year before, as the administration normalized the cuts and student appeasement and disengagement outweighed action and protest. Yet the student fee hikes, administrative management of the budget, police repression and the state’s refusal to prioritize education in California are still very real problems for the UC (University of California) staff, faculty, GSIs and students on campus.
The need for an improved system is obvious; nobody in the Public Education system has been spared by the effects of the budget cuts. In July 2011, the Regents approved another 9.6% student fee hike, raising the total cost per semester (“tuition” combined with “student fees”) for the UC from $4,843 in 2008 to $7,230 in 2012. At the most recent meeting, the Regents proposed another fee increase, as they have done in every meeting since the Budget Crisis, which “if state funding stagnates, could top $22,000 ” (Daily Cal, 9/15) , or 81% over the next four years.
Within the public there exists massive potential to fight for the right to public education and have a more sustainable and democratically-oriented UC system. This is why the main organizing groups on campus are coming together in the Public Education Coalition: a new, open body to discuss organizing methods, actions, and goals, to unify and organize the campus community against the austerity measures.
The necessity for a fresh organizing space in part came from the dissolution of many previously powerful organizing groups on campus and the isolated, sporadic nature of actions last year which weakened the potential of the resistance movement. While the ideological and methodological differences among organizing sectors are real, we share ultimate goals to work together. These are: to respect direct democracy, and to collaborate for more influence over the student body, administration and the state. The Public Education Coalition is still in its infancy and subject to change, but its possibility to drive the mobilization of UC Berkeley and other UC campuses already appears strong.
The Public Education Coalition is all-encompassing, and represents all sectors of campus— undergraduates, graduates, lecturers, professors, and both unionized and non-unionized University workers. The currently represented unions include UPTE, CUE-Teamsters, UAW 2865 and UC-AFT.
Some of the key issues for workers at the UC are the Administration’s refusal and stalling of important contract negotiations with campus unions (e.g. CUE-Teamsters), underpaying, mistreating and laying off vital UC workers. Last year, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU), an opposition caucus focused on union democracy and reform, won the leadership elections of UAW2865. Now, the union, which represents Graduate Students, Readers, and tutors is focusing on active participation of rank-and-file members and is playing an active role in fighting against the austerity measures both at the UC and the state level. Their organizational presence in many ways drove the creation of the Public Education Coalition and, along with other UC unions, they continue to provide important resources to support various functions, including meeting space, photocopying propaganda material, and helping with outreach.
The Public Education Coalition created a general Mission Statement and clear list of demands to use as the platform in outreach and action organizing. This communal document, created in a committee and revised within the meetings serves as a joint message of principles and goals to move forward. The Statement calls for “making corporations and the wealthy pay to fund free public education, health care, and social services” with a list of specific UC policy demands such as “rehiring workers fired as a result of the budget cuts”, “democratic control of the university by students, faculty and staff”, “equal and full access to the university for undocumented students and workers” and “an end to UC administrative and police surveillance, violence, and intervention in political and academic activities”.
Group decisions are made through the Action, Propaganda, Outreach, and temporary event-based committees that work on various projects to fulfill the mission statement and increase the organizing potential of the coalition. Recently, a Townhall committee focused on organizing the “Austerity Townhall” scheduled for September 20th to discuss the austerity measures and call the community to participate in this semester of resistance. ON September 22nd, the official start date for all other UC Campuses, the Public Education Coalition called for a day of action at UC Berkeley to build momentum and strengthen the movement for future actions, which are focusing on the UC Regents Meeting* on November 9th and 10th. The September 22nd Day of Action was a good step forward because it had hundreds of new students at the rally, the subsequent march and had an open occupation of Tollman Hall, where workshops, movie screenings and meetings were held. Many new students were brought in and experienced their first protest. Though police sparked a provocation that led to a scuffle, the day was a good stepping stone in building a presence in campus and to try to bring new folks into the budding movement. We must now look towards making our next Days of Action in November 9th-10th bigger, broader and to involve even more students and workers. With a clear message of what we are fighting for and an outreach effort for all members of the campus community, we can make the qualitative leaps needed to build a bigger public education movement at UC Berkeley and beyond.
The Public Education Coalition welcomes everybody interested in fighting against the austerity measures and in creating a more accessible, democratic, and accountable campus community, not just for the University of California but for all Public Education sectors suffering from the State Budget measures.
La Voz endorses the spirit of the coalition, its mission statement, demands, and proposed plans of mass action. Spaces and organizing like this needs to start at every campus and workplace. Like in previous years, a democratic organizing space will ensure the participation of the campus community and is the optimal form for building mass and democratic mobilizations in order to beat back the austerity measures at the campus and statewide level. Past mass mobilizations have proven popular and have helped resist further cuts to higher education, but our battle has only just started. Only a mass and popular movement can push back the newest period of austerity cuts and defeat the plan of the ruling class to make the workers, students and oppressed communities pay for the economic crisis.
 The actual Regents meeting happen on November 16-18th.