The struggle for Public Education in California: a growing movement
Written by Workers Voice – USA: Thursday, 04 March 2010
The educational community is uprising in California. On March 4th students and education workers will be the protagonists of the first major state struggle against the Obama and Schwarzenegger administrations’ austerity measures.
Democrats and Republicans are forcing working class and oppressed communities to pay the cost of the budgetary deficit, induced by the donation of trillions of dollars made by the White House to bankers and firms to free them from bankruptcy.
The University of California System Mobilizes in Resistance
These measures have provoked significant resistance, with the public education sector t aking center stage. After a three-week hunger strike taken by Los Angeles teachers in 2009 May, UCB (University of California – Berkeley) workers and students began organizing against the furloughs, layoffs, pay cuts for staff and the fee hikes, restricted admissions and curtailment of academic programs for students in last June. At the UC, this is a fight against both the state legislature and the bangster Wall Street types appointed by the Governor to manage the UC system, the Board of Regents. With the largest mobilization in the UC-wide walkout on Sept. 24th, UC Berkeley emerged as the best organized campus.
On Oct. 24th, students and education workers from across the state converged on UCB for a historic mobilizing conference, which brought together the most militant sectors of rank-and-file public education workers, teachers and students to decide democratically on a plan of action for a united fight back. Out of the conference emerged, for the first time, the possibility for statewide coordination of struggle and March 4th as the date for a strike / day of action.
The struggle generalizes: the coordinated week of action across public education
On Nov. 18th through 20th, the educational community held coordinated protest actions during the week of the UC Regents, CSU Board of Trustees and K-12 Board of Education meetings to shut down business as usual.
Unlike on Sept. 24th, the resistance was widespread, a clear indication of the depth of the anger the budget cuts have provoked. At Cal State Fresno students reclaimed their library in protest against cut hours of operation. At SF State, students rallied and held a spirited sit-in style occupation of the administration office. Students at City College of SF organized a several hundred strong march to SF State in solidarity. The Oakland teachers held a week of education on the crisis. The epicenters of this struggle were in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the sites of the Regents and Trustees meetings, and at UC Berkeley, where we held a historical three-day student and workers strike.
The University of California On Strike!
Across the UC system, thousands of students, workers and faculty mobilized to protest layoffs, furloughs, and the 32% student fee hike, converging on UCLA to shut down the Regents Meeting, through the occupation of the building where they had assembled. The vicious UC and LA police arrested 14 people and injured many more. At UCSC, 500 people blocked campus entrances and occupied the administrative and other buildings. And at UC Davis, 52 protesters were arrested during a sit in, followed by more building occupations. The grad student instructors and technical and clerical workers at UCB called for a two-day strike. Students took up the call with a three-day strike and they were joined by a weeklong strike of the Bears Lair food court. During the strike, thousands of students and workers took to the streets, marching to both Berkeley High and the community college. Outside, they chanted: “One Struggle! One Fight! Education Is A Right!”.
On day two of the strike, the picket lines were organized at the worksites; the activists marched to the administration building and delivered uncollected garbage at its front door to protest against cuts to custodial staff. On the third day, after the Regents pushed through the fee hike, students took over Wheeler Hall, demanding the reinstatement of 38 laid-off AFSCME workers, a commitment from the UCB administration to protect Rochdale, a student affordable housing unit, and a fair contract for the Bear’s Lair. The administration responded with an army of police equipped with tear gas, tasers, and rubber bullets. But the administration’s brutal use of police force rekindled the struggle. With the support of thousands of students and workers who threw their bodies in front of the army of police battalions, the students held the hall for 12 hours and successfully negotiated to have their charges reduced. This was a major victory of the enormous power of students and workers when they act as one, showing clearly the class nature of the conflict.
A new layer of activists fighting against Obama and Schwarzenegger repression appears
The broad UCB mobilization and the severity and the severity of the Regents decisions radicalized a whole new layer of students and workers whose level of political consciousness was transformed on the picket lines and in the barricades.
The activists marched on the Oakland courthouse in support of those arrested. From there, we took over the UC Office of the President to protest the administration’s arrogant refusal to negotiate with protestors. At Cal State San Francisco, in a major escalation, students took over the Business Building and held it for almost 24.
Since the strike days, the administration’s willingness to employ violence against students and workers has increased dramatically. In fact, by the end of the semester, the administration had made over 100 protest-related arrests at UC Berkeley alone. Moreover, the UC and Schwarzenegger administrations gear up for new levels of repression, even openly making statements against “terrorism” and for students to be “prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law”.
The struggle achieves its first victory, but…
The independent and democratic mobilization of students and workers led Schwarzenegger to propose a “new model” for higher education, raising public spending to the UCs and CSUs from the actual 7.5% to 10% of the total California budget (it was 13% in 1970) at the expenses of capping the prison budget to 7% (11% today). If this announcement is a victory in the sense that is recognizes the strength of our movement and our collective power, it is also and foremost an attempt to co-opt and divide the movement for public education.
First, we are not fighting for a random increase of funding at the expenses of other public workers. Second, the “cuts” to “prison spending” are mainly cuts to professional educators and other social public workers that work in the prison system.
Finally, the Governor proposal not only does not satisfy the needs and demands of the UCs and CSUs, but is furthermore an attempt to isolate the “elite institutions” from the rest of the public education system, leaving K-12 and the CCs without resources. We need to refuse categorically this attempt to divide us and buy us out: We fight together, we stay together!
March 4th, an action and strike day everywhere
The agitation and mobilization of the students and workers in every school or workplace that is affected by the cuts need to be increased to organize the action day. In this sense, the regional and city-based March 4th strike/actions committees have a key role to play in order to unify the emerging struggles inside every sector of public education.
The K-12 teachers are being attacked all across the State. The United Teachers of Richmond are losing their healthcare benefits and facing unprecedented increases in class sizes. Meanwhile, their union leadership is promoting the charterization of the whole school district. In Oakland, many schools are closing and in Los Angeles, the school district wanted to give away 250 schools in the district to charters. Thanks to the mobilization of the rank-and- file UTLA members, only 37 were charterized. In Berkeley too the school district wants to create charter schools and the teachers are fighting back. These struggles have to be linked to the mobilizations in the CCs, UCs and CSUs!
But the crisis and the cuts are affecting all public workers, even if their union leadership is not organizing the fight back. SEIU local 1000 rank-and-file members authorized the call for a strike by a yes vote of 74% in the summer when the cuts where made public, but the union leadership preferred to “lobby” the legislature to negotiate to reduce the layoffs. Nevertheless, hundreds of prison teachers have been protesting the entire month of December against the layoff of 1,000 prison educators. The same happened with SEIU 1021, representing over 54 000 public workers (city and county workers, health-care and social services) in Northern California, when the rank-and-file voted down twice a tentative agreement that included layoffs before the leadership managed to impose the contract. In order to coordinate all these struggles and to determine a common program of action, United Public Workers for Action called for a Public Workers Mobilizing Conference Saturday February 20th in San Francisco.
The need for a political leadership
For this movement to succeed, we need to provide an alternative political leadership for the workers who want to fight, especially inside their unions. This fight is inseparable from the political fight in our unions for workers democracy, the end of staff privileges and the independence of working class organizations from bourgeois parties, such as Democrats and Republicans.
We also need to be able to organize the non-unionized workers and to develop a democratic base organism for students, unemployed workers and community members that want to fight. We believe that in this acute crisis, the process of mobilization and struggle will change the political consciousness of many that will experience and understand the inherent inequalities and contradictions of US imperialism. But our task is not only to show this contradiction to the fighting masses, it is also to change the too long ongoing situation: we need to fight for the political power to change this system.
The bourgeoisie has its own leadership in national and state governments and is ruling the state for the interest of the corporations. The American working class, though, hasn’t achieved its class independence to build its own political organization, in order to conquest the strength and capacity to defend its class interests and seize power to abolish class society. The students and workers mobilization at California may represent the first step in this way.