|Written by La Voz de Los Trabajadores|
|Wednesday, 13 March 2013 06:19|
The actors have changed. The scripts have been rewritten. UC President Mark Yudof may be resigning and there may be a tuition freeze for 2013-14 and maybe even beyond that. But privatization and new forms of “austerity” continue to be imposed on us, and so we still need to agitate, educate, and organize.
To begin with, Organizing works! We should take Yudof’s resignation and the tuition freeze as a victory. Roughly four years ago, from 2008/9, when fees were raised 32% and we organized to reverse the cut of over $300 million in the state budget for the UC, until 2011/12 when we fought off an 81% fee hikes, it would have been inconceivable to see even a momentary pause in what seemed like an endless wave of hikes. Today, we are faced with tuition that has remained stagnant for nearly two years. This did not happen by accident. Students, workers, and other members of the campus community won this through resistance on campus.
But despite these victories, the logic of the privatizers, that education needs a business model that generates profit, is still the ruling ideology of our university system. The body of the privatizers, the UC Regents, still is the ruling body of our university system. Therefore, while the Regents have made tactical retreats on some fronts, they continue to advance or begin new assaults on other fronts, most notably in online education and healthcare. As a result, the fact that Yudof is resigning and that fee hikes have stagnated, as important as they are, should not dampen the force of our struggle against allforms of austerity and privatization, and towards further democratization of our University. We still face the same harsh reality students faced back in 2009-11 and even before that: the final act in the tragedy the Regents have prepared for us will still lead to the death of public education.
Undergraduate Organizing: The Problem of the Revolving Door
The current generation of organizers, especially undergraduates, must draw lessons from the past three years of the student movement in order to move forward. The vast majority of the current undergraduate organizing generation came directly as a result of Occupy in 2011, and therefore, do not have much or any experience in student organizing at UC Berkeley before that year. Unfortunately, this lack of continuity, shared experience, or memory is a general problem in the undergraduate spaces, which tends to result in undergraduates reinventing the wheel or replicating mistakes. So, whereas graduate students were able to use the events in 2009 as a launching pad to take over their union through a reform caucus, providing them with greater organizational capacity, undergrads have failed to qualitatively advance in forms of organizing since 2009. Ultimately, this problem stems from the fact that undergraduates have no continuous spaces for themselves to organize against austerity.
The question that must be asked, therefore, is why not? The reality is, there is no existing undergraduate body with the organizational capacity such as the grad union to simply take over. Some may argue that the ASUC is such a body, but its bureaucratic links to the administration and lack of independence from the administration make that option unlikely to be effective. The only option existing for undergraduate students then is to do the hard groundwork of consciously constructing such an organization now. There are no shortcuts. It begins with simply a handful or a couple of students with a clear vision and commitment to building connections and recruiting people. But of course, recruit people for what? Therefore, political questions become central to the formation of any organization.
The Question of Political Leadership
The tradition of Occupy, though not only Occupy, has left a relatively tainted taste when it comes to the word “leadership.” Leadership has often been conflated with people who need to satiate an uncontrollable ego, or some form of bureaucracy. As a result, the question of leadership has in many cases entirely been discarded. However, this approach is to ignore reality. Leaderships exist in any organizing space, not just in the individual relationships from person to person, but also the relationship between an organization or space (such as Occupy) and to the people they wish to attract (i.e. the 99%). When Occupy sprung up, it put forth a political perspective, which was extremely nebulous, but nonetheless it managed to place itself as an alternative political space for people to participate and express themselves.
Conceptually, this is the type of leadership undergraduates need to develop; the leadership of an organization with an alternative political perspective capable of bringing people en masse, recruiting and trainingnew organizers regularly. This means organizers must develop and be able to articulate clear political aims and strategies to achieve those aims. It is true people learn through struggle, and struggle meansnot just action but also political education. People learn through their experience, both physical and mental. A whack from the baton of a police officer does not automatically radicalize an individual and bring them to your cause. People do not mechanically come to the same conclusions, and the only way to bring each other to develop a conscience of solidarity and determination for struggle is to inject into actions and other organizing spaces a conscious and coordinated political perspective.
Action and Organization
Now, the fact that actions against austerity and privatization can draw thousands of people demonstrates that there is an interested body of students in a political alternative to the profit driven university. What is lacking is an organization capable of integrating new organizers for this political aim. This should be the project of SDU (Students for a Democratic University). Its main goal was never to construct a student union or put on actions and events, but rather to provide a permanent organization for undergraduate students to work together and organize against austerity. Now, the student union is the strategic form through which this goal can be realized, and actions and events are tactically important, but it is important to understand these distinctions between goals, strategies, and tactics.
In the end, the strategies we adopt must be adapted to the goals we want to achieve. And furthermore, we need to develop and adapt tactics according to the strategies we deploy. So, we need to ask ourselves, what will it take to not just stop these attacks, but reverse them? This should be our goal.
If our goal is to simply prevent further austerity or privatization, then we can continue the way we have been organizing for the past three years because that appears to be the clear limit of our current form of organization, which have been loose coalitions formed in response to attacks that have failed to bring in new organizers or participants en masse. But, even then, this strategyof organizing has produced more failures than successes. There have been some cases where organizing through loose coalitions has resulted in stopping attacks, but there have been arguably even more cases where students were unable to organize a response capable of stopping attacks. But if our goal is to reverse these policies and to push for free education then it is clear we need to move on to a different strategy.
In order to reverse the attacks, what realistically needs to occur is a massive statewide offensive in the form of a strike by students and workers. But as students, what is necessary to build such a strike?The strength of an action is directly tied to organization and structure. A statewide strike needs both statewide and local bodies to plan, discuss, vote, and coordinate such a strike. Do such bodies exist both on a statewide and local level in California with that scale and influence? No, but these bodies with such scale and influence will not simply appear out of nowhere. It will take a conscious effort by students to construct such bodies locally and statewide. Thus, the construction of such a body, which would be a student union, should be our strategy.
The question of how to achieve our strategy becomes a tactical discussion. How can we construct such bodies? It won’t be done simply through propaganda, there must also be an element of action. So, whatever SDU decides to do, it must consciously connect its activities with the construction of the student union. Moreover, the effectiveness of the tactics must be judged on how they either advance, stagnate, or hurt the strategy of building a student union.
The construction of these bodies must happen now, and they must make a conscious effort to build themselves by recruiting members and develop clear political aims as well as strategies and tactics. And if we, as activists, are unable to provide that leadership and direction, then the future plans of the Regents – and not our vision for the future – will win out.
The Regents understand the relationship between political direction and organization well. They essentially have complete authority over the UC and are able to launch their directives and attacks at a statewide level whenever they want. They can coordinate their forces and they can concentrate them wherever they want. Yet, we continue to fight localized battles when attacks are happening at a statewide level. What we have more of than the Regents, though, is people. What we lack is the capacity and the organizations to bring in and mobilize those people. This organization is where the undergraduate student movement has been and continues to be weak.
Building the Student Union by Building SDU
There are uneven levels of political awareness not just on each individual campus but also on a statewide level. However, our awareness is not atomized and entirely divided from one another. There is a connected nature to our awareness that allows for us to learn from one another resulting in combined development. For example, the struggles by students in Chile and Quebec, although separated from California by thousands of miles, have given students in California an example to follow resulting in the project to build a California Student Union.
Keeping this in mind, SDU must look at its actions not simply on the campus level but at the statewide level as well. With the Third California Student Union Conference coming up in April (insert precise date and location), much of the discussion at the conference will revolve around tactical approaches that either worked or did not work in building local bodies of the student union. This is going to be an important conference and discussion. It is likely that the successful tactics discussed at the statewide conference will be adopted and deployed in various other local bodies. This is the reciprocal nature of local and statewide development, and shows the necessity to construct both bodies simultaneously. The statewide conference will provide a statewide platform for each local body to discuss strategies and tactics, which can then be adopted and applied at the local bodies, and by building the local bodies it also strengthens the statewide body and vice versa.
Here at UC Berkeley there are countless issues for SDU to tackle, so that is not the important question. The important question is how can we tackle these issues and build SDU and the student union at the same time? The only solution to this is that SDU, as a group, have a strong political message and physical presence as an organization. This means
* constructing our own literature
* developing a political strategy
* developing a program that each organizer in SDU can articulate to people they run into
* logistically, this means having regular meetings that people can attend that start and end on time
* and ultimately, SDU must craft an organizing space that is able to integrate new people, which means creating agendas before meetings take place, being conscious of the jargon we use around new people, and being able to allow for varying levels of participation that utilizes whatever skill sets people want to use.
With all this said, the most concrete thing SDU can focus on is the 25% increase in UC SHIP. It is the most concrete attack facing the students across the UC’s, but we should not fall into the trap of concentrating on this issue alone. We must utilize this issue, which is likely to immediately grab the attention of a lot of people, to expand on other issues, such as the current attempt to shut down City College of San Francisco (CCSF) or privatize the UC steadily through online education. Our strategy should be the formation of a California Student Union that can organize a mass strike in order to achieve our goal of reversing austerity, democratizing the university, and making public education once again free. Surely various events and actions will pop up throughout the semester, but what is most strategically important is that SDU needs tobe able to intervene collectively in the space and take the political leadership as a group, providing a political alternative that people can be willing and enthused to actively organize with us.