Solidarity Alliance: A Call to Action

— Claudette Begin

AN HISTORIC ALLIANCE was born at UC Berkeley on August 28, 2009. Lyn Hejinian, Professor of English and a member of SAVE, a newly formed faculty group, had issued an invitation to student groups and the union coalition to come together and share our plans to fight the cuts.

AFSCME, AFT, CUE and UPTE eagerly responded as did a number of student groups, including the student government and underrepresented students as well as SWAT (Student Workers Action Team which had formed during the summer.)

The import of the Regents’ granting emergency powers to President Yudof and the cuts being implemented were just starting to sink in as students and faculty returned for the new semester.

Just an hour before the meeting, a call from some UC Davis faculty and lecturers surfaced on the internet for a September 24 walkout. Copies of this call were circulating at this initial meeting even while introductions were being shared.

The call was adopted as our first common purpose. Each group or union reported on their organizing to date and how their constituents were being impacted, and discussed how they could participate in building the September 24 Walkout. UPTE members at the meeting were asked if they could reschedule their proposed one-day strike to the 24th.

This kind of initiative by faculty is historically unique, and testifies to the seriousness with which progressive faculty views the UCs’ crisis. As Hejinian noted in an email message to me, “The current UC administration is manipulating a very real budgetary crisis so as to implement a political agenda — one that is set on the large scale privatization of the public sector. High tuitions, low worker salaries, and union-busting are a familiar part of that scenario.”

From its dramatic birth, the various constituencies participating in the Solidarity Alliance at Berkeley are forging a political community, and also significant friendships. From the very start — most amazingly, given the history of difficult or absent relations between faculty and workers, especially, but also between those groups and students — the groups and organizations of the Solidarity Alliance recognized, despite their very real particular situations, that they had the same basic goals, and recognized the necessity to work together to realize them.

During the fall struggles, SAVE’s Coordinating Council organized faculty investigative committees tasked with researching UC’s priorities and kept information and debate flowing on a faculty listserv. SWAT set up weekly town halls (over 100 graduate students attended their first organizing meeting). Several new student organizations came into existence, including GSOC (the Graduate Student Organizing Committee), the General Assembly, and the United Students of Color.

As September 24 approached — the date of the first major UC Berkeley protest against the administration’s draconian and destructive measures — the Solidarity Alliance took responsibility for the rally.

AFSCME arranged for the sound. UPTE organized their strike pickets, CUE joined them on sympathy strike, and students organized teach-ins and various feeder activities. By noon on September 24, Sproul Plaza was mobbed and the word was out that a new movement to save public education was born.

The Solidarity Alliance continues to meet every week, providing an invaluable clearinghouse and discussion forum. Key to the success of the ongoing work of the various activists is discussion of plans and strategies. In the weekly meetings, constituencies offer each other feedback and figure out how to support each other.

This movement is a combination of grassroots (SWAT and weekly General Assemblies and direct action groups) and established organizing (unions, student government, etc.) involving constituencies in different locales and with very different meeting calendars and expectations (not to mention the size of UC Berkeley — 35,000). The Solidarity Alliance endorses events only when broad support among the groups has been reached.

Four days after the September 24 rally, the Solidarity Alliance issued a statement announcing its ten basic principles:

1. We believe in democratic participation by everybody. Every voice is equal, all are also listeners.

2. We are committed to protecting the rights of others, with maximal sensitivity to the vulnerable.

3. We are determined to practice Solidarity in alliance with all students, workers and faculty groups who share our goals while respecting each others’ constituencies.

4. We know our diversity to be our strength, and we know that ensuring Solidarity among the students means standing up for working-class and middle-class students, defending students of color, out-of-state and international students, and supporting transfer and first generation college students.

5. We are committed to workers’ rights. The staff of the UC are just as vital to the health of this University as the faculty and students. The services provided by UC staff must be protected and not slashed; workers contracts must be honored and their Unions protected from those who would see the lowest paid members of our community driven into poverty.

6. We will uphold the value of higher education as a public good that must remain accessible and affordable to all the people of California and beyond.

7. We believe that public education should be democratic in its organization and governance. Unelected Regents, incompetent presidents with “emergency powers,” outrageous spending on administration and secret budgets are real threats to what is best about the University of California.

8. We believe that this must be a fight to defend all public education in the State of California from kindergartens to colleges. UC must not use its privileged position to make a special deal with Sacramento at the expense of the Cal State System, the Community Colleges and all the public schools, most of whom are suffering far more debilitating cuts than UC Berkeley.

9. We recognize that while the State of California is in an unprecedented financial crisis, we reject as false the faith that diminishing opportunity, cuts to the most vulnerable and privatization are inevitable. We believe that higher education should be free and must expand as a necessary response to this crisis.

10.We firmly believe that Solidarity can and must win this fight.  §

ATC 145, March-April 2010

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