Students and Workers Organize Massive, United Fight Back On March 4th
|Written by Worker’s Voice|
|Tuesday, 23 March 2010 16:26|
In a major advance in the fight against the privatization of education, what began as a struggle centered mostly in the University of California system (the most elite and restricted tier of the public higher education system in California) exploded on March 4th as a united fightback of the education sector as a whole. Students and education workers from all of the educational sectors across the state of California and in 33 other states mobilized massive, united protest actions on March 4th, including strikes, work stoppages, walk-outs, rallies, protests, sit-ins, open occupations, and even two freeway takeovers. Demands included an end to layoffs, furloughs, and pay cuts for workers, the rescinding of student fee hikes, cuts to classes and departments, charter schools, and Obama’s Race To The Top. Many linked the fight for public education to the economic crisis, the wars, and the growth of the prison industry with the slogan “Money For Jobs and Education! Not For War and Incarceration!”
In Northern California, where organizational efforts have so far been the strongest, students at University of California Berkeley, University of California Santa Cruz, and San Francisco State led militant student strikes, with UC Santa Cruz being the strongest and successfully paralyzing all campus functions. Many of the campus workers took the day off to come out in support. Three hundred rank-and-file Graduate Student Instructors at UC Berkeley, where the militancy of protest actions resulted in well over 100 arrests last semester alone, defied their United Auto Workers union leadership by organizing and leading an illegal strike, shutting down many of the most devastated academic departments.
There were massive actions at every campus and many paralyzed major streets. At UCLA, students occupied the Chancellors office. Meanwhile, community colleges, high schools, middle schools, and even some elementary schools across the state led walkouts, many in defiance of hostile school administrations and police mobilized to enforce truancy laws. There were mass rallies in Oakland (1,500), San Francisco (10,000), San Diego (3000) and Los Angeles (3500). Students, led mostly by queer students and students of color at UC Davis tried to take over the freeway in the afternoon, but were pushed back by police. Later, 150 students, mostly from UC Berkeley, Laney Community College, and local high schools marched onto an important freeway, paralyzing it for hours during rush hour traffic. They were beaten by the police and arrested and one 15 year old high school student fell from the freeway while running from the police, cracking his skull as he crashed onto the sidewalk below.
In Los Angeles, the local “March 4th Committee” included teachers and students from the inner-city high schools, community colleges, and Cal States. They poured tremendous outreach and organizing into their campuses, the high schools, and educational workers, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) in particular. The fight and will to struggle of the students across Cal. impelled educational unions to some level of activity. While the rank-and-file in UTLA pushed for more militant action, including job actions and strikes, the leadership moved to form a coalition of education unions that undermined the scope of resistance into legislative calls and after-school rallies. Students linked up with LA teachers and built support among teachers, including going into area meetings and passing a vote to strike in one. College students did outreach to high schools, going into classrooms and passing out literature after-school. On March 4th, student walk-outs and rallies occurred in all sectors of the public education system and joined in downtown Los Angeles with teachers and other educational workers for a rally and march on the Governor’s office. The successful mobilization in Los Angeles showed the unifying role the local committees can play.
Within the University of California system, the protest actions took on an additional urgency and meaning in the context of several major racist and homophobic attacks on campuses in the last weeks: a series of escalating racist attacks against black students at UC San Diego and an attack on a LGBT resource center at UC Davis. The massive fee increases and reduced admissions have already dramatically worsened the situation of students of color on campuses. As working class students are forced out of school and the number of students from oppressed communities shrinks even more, the ability of these communities to fight back has been reduced, leaving them especially vulnerable to these attacks. But at the same time, militant students of color have been at the forefront of the public education struggle and have elevated the political project of the movement, making the fight against oppression central to its goals.
Several unions across the state, under pressure from the rank-and-file workers, officially endorsed March 4th. The main mobilizations of rank-and-file workers, especially the teachers, were built, however, by the rank-and-file themselves. The entrenched union leadership tried to channel protest efforts away from militant mass direct action and into visits to Congressmen, lobbying campaigns, legislative drives, and evening rallies after work hours, into the demobilizing strategy of “Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote”. Similar efforts were led by local school administrations and bureaucratic student government bodies. They fought to control the political content of the rallies as well, pushing for speakers from the union leadership and the Democratic Party, but these efforts were rejected by the mobilized student and worker activists.
The March 4th Strike and Day of Action was built from the ground up by students and rank-and-file workers from within each of the educational sectors. The decision to build for a united Strike and Day of Action came out of a conference organized at UC Berkeley last October, 2009 where 800 students and workers from across the state came together to build a united plan to fight back the cuts. The conference also established three basic political principles that have shaped and pushed forward the struggle: the unity of workers and students across all sectors, the mass democratic and independent character of the movement, and the need for militant direct action. The March 4th Regional Committees were established out of the conference to coordinate mobilization in each of the regions of the state. They are being built as bodies to fight for and defend these principles and to work to extend city and region-wide unity of decisions and mobilizations.