California knows how to party – students strike across UC system

Posted November 20, 2009

Building on more modest actions one month ago, California’s statewide public university system has exploded in protest as thousands of students rally against outrageous tuition hikes. Tactics have ranged from mass rallies to five building occupations. At UCLA and UC Berkeley, the professional union UPTE staged a one-day strike Wednesday, followed a day later by a rally of 2,000 students encircling the Board of Regents meeting as they voted on the monster 32% fee increase.

from indymedia

Under a call for “No Business as Usual,” the student activists have united around several demands:

  1. That the Regents vote no on the proposed fee increases.
  2. That the UC stop cuts and layoffs, and end its aggressive union-busting tactics.
  3. Transparency of the UC budget, including complete figures on how much of the additional revenue from fees will be diverted for construction and used as bond collateral.
  4. Expand enrollment of underrepresented groups and ensure equal access to education for all by maintaining all educational institutions as sanctuary spaces for undocumented students and workers and by providing adequate financial aid for undocumented and underrepresented students.
  5. An explanation for the failure of the UC leadership to make an effective case for public higher education. As both students and taxpayers, we demand leaders who can make that case, and an administration whose transparency can once again inspire the confidence of the state and its citizens.

Intimidation of the protesters has ranged from tasering of African-American UCLA students to slapping one demonstrator at Berkeley with the major charge of inciting a riot, and rumors of threats of tear gas. Student occupiers at UC Santa Cruz have included in their demands the disarming of campus police – which is the case in many countries throughout the world.

While this round of demonstrations is not yet concluded, the Regents decision is a real blow to education access. However plans are underway for more action this spring, as California students lead the way in refusing to pay for the fallout of the capitalist crisis.

For on the scene information:


13 responses to “California knows how to party – students strike across UC system”

  1. hoytcha Avatar

    Nate, I think you’re wrong. We have as long and hard-fought a history of student activism as any other country. We just fought for civil rights and against wars. They just haven’t fought for themselves. Now we’re under attack and it’s time. But you have to be smart and strategic as well as militant. The revolution’s not coming tomorrow. You need to walk before you can run. Arne Duncan, Mike Bloomberg and Obama hate public education. The lack of a unified organized and militant student movement is one of the reasons they think they can get away with it.

  2. Wes Avatar

    I think Issac has it right on, here. I think the issue in the US is that we dont have the strong protracted struggles on the level tha tthey exist in other countries to fuel student activism. Yes, they still exist, but student uprisings have been episodic at best and I imagine they will continue to do so while there is a diminish radical tradition in the country. Struggles do, however, exist. I just read Jeremy Brecher’s chapter in Strike! on the role youth played in non-union labor struggles during the vietnam war era, which was very interesting and talked a lot about how youth relate to and participate if not form these movements that can be the basis for a radical future.

  3. Hoytcha Avatar

    Insight and Isaac, just to start with, I really appreciate the thoughtful responses you’ve provided and I think these discussions can lead to a real advance for these movements. I know that the student governments are a joke, Insight, but in Canada, England, France, etc. they don’t exist at all. The only organizations that stand for all students are student unions. Like the other unions, they go on strike. What often happens is that other radicals, hardcore trots and manarchists, take the demands and the tactics of those strikes and go further with them than the reformist leadership of the student unions would dream of, and I think that that’s generally a good thing. I saw this happen first hand in Quebec in 2006. But the fact is that the strikes and the whole other process would not happen without industrial organization based on our interests as entry-level academic workers. It’s the only way to sustain the movement between budget cycles and the only way to stand up to someone like the governor of a state. I don’t know if reforming student government to make it totally independent of administrations and using their considerable resources is the way to achieve this. Another option is to have non-majority student unions where students pay dues into an organization that has the goal of totally replacing student government and speaks as the representative of all students. In Quebec in the 1960s, students actually fought for their own version of Employee Free Choice Act and got collective bargaining rights from their provincial government!
    But Isaac, I respectfully disagree with you on the California movement. I feel that it will go the way of every single one of the four budget fights I’ve been involved with. It will blow off steam, it will die down, and it will disintegrate. It’s demands are already disregarded by the governor and state legislature. Most of this movement is consolidating around the leadership of professors and their unions, who for once in their lives seem to care about student issues, but they will make their separate deals for higher wages, and they will leave undergrads and their phony organizations, student government and USSA, in the dust.
    I think this will continue until we get serious. We have to get serious about getting resources for campaigns against the real decision-makers who for the most part are state politicians. And the only way to do this and maintain our political independence is not through coalitions, its through a union that collects dues and fights on our behalf all year long, not just when the budget’s up.

  4. hoytcha Avatar

    Haha I meant Wes not Nate!

  5. Isaac Avatar

    Hi all – interesting discussion. A few quick and very scattered comments.

    I don’t know much about the Canadian student movement but looking at collective bargaining as a path towards militancy is strange. Some structure to preserve gains would be a long-term demand but surely the model of collective bargaining for workers organizations has been one part of their institutional, bureaucratic, and (definitely from the perspective of most students) boring nature. Since national coordination of student issue specific campaigns are not possible anyway, that would not work.

    There is national coordination of the student movement when there are (usually corporate or federal) targets shared by schools in many state systems like the CIA or military, brands that license sweatshop goods, etc. But there is no national higher education system. I’m not sure if the demand of “free higher education” raised by Adolph Reed & the Labor Party was supposed to imply a national, federal education system but that seems clearly necessary. One problem in California is that the state budget is a mess. Sure it’s possible to tax the rich to get resources, but many resources that we need on the state level are taken by federal projects, mainly the military budget. This maybe is one way that the “state’s rights” and regionalism that’s a bedrock of conservative thinking is manipulated to screw people over.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the biggest successes of the student movement in the US have been around broader social issues like racism, war, solidarity with workers, the environment, etc. And along with the lack of a national higher education system, of course there are also so many private colleges that play important roles in this wing of the student movement. One of the tragedies of the NY occupations for me was they were at very expensive private colleges – an easy wedge to divide support from other parts of society, and also an obvious issue of student leverage since they are paying tuition to support the school.

    Anyway, for socialists it’s important to keep “student issues” connected to “social issues” and not downplay either. Sometimes I see a tendency to look at “student issues” as somehow “more serious” – I don’t know if this is an adaptation to the conservative labor movement, or what. I mean, we WISH that the unions etc were taking on big political issues…

    From talking to student activists in California it seems like things are moving very quickly and they’re learning a lot. I look forward to seeing how things go in the coming months!

  6. Wes Avatar

    I was talking about longer protracted struggles in general soceity. A lot of youth are shaped in one way or another by thier parents. Students and youth of today dont sit on decades of militant labor activvism of thier parents. Student struggles have also been subdued over the past 30 years when compared to previous eras. This is what i am takling about. I am not saying they dont exist, however. I am saying that these longer social. struggles support and foster growth among students, but neither are required for the other to occur. This is just to exemplify the difference between the 60s and today.

  7. Wes Avatar

    I think what Hoytcha is talking about is important, but I think the organization that she mentions have could/would colalesce out of smaller acitons. Student movement are made up of new people every time they re-emerge and many have to re-learn previous lessons. Students in Cali generally new that this was going to pass anyways. I am unaware how the politics of who the final decider is in Cali, but I would expect that in any state system – such as it is the case here in Connecticut – that it is run very much the way she has described. And even if there was no legal precedent or framework for removal of a president/regent of a univ, I would imagine that a state governor would attempt to remove anyone from that position if they challenged the state’s power or refused to support budget cuts.

    But this doesnt mean that we need to run out and create an organization before there is a demand to build one. I certainly think this can come out soon – even on a naitonal level – and I think the general student/youth sentiment is headed in that direction. I am not well informed on the canadian models, but Canada in general seems to me to less of an iversion to political activism, a phenomenon that does exist here in the US, partially because of anti-communist sentiment that is spread in schools and also because of the current generation not having as much social history based in highly active mass movements. This was different for students/youth leading up to the 80s who could sit in previous years and had heard stories from relatives on the intense activity of the early years of American labor. Under these conditions, I think that it is important at this point to organize broadly, connect with union rank and filers (who can push thier unions to finance some projects that students wouldn’t be ab le to pay for with dues – keep in mind many are struggleing to pay school debts in the first place) but wont have control or influence over student actions, participate in actions and events that will grow a movement, and coalsce an organization when it seems to fit. Cali folks have done this already and the organization that they pulled together came out of the actions of smaller organizations on different campuses reaching out and working together.

    As someone who was on student government at a state college, I doubt they can be anything but a mouthpiece of the administraiton that makes itself look like the “middleman” unless there is a mass movement supporting it that can vote in thier own candidates. I think there could be some benefit to this, but to use it as a main strategy i think would be too draining. People need to be organized to show thier political power in the streets, not in voting boxes. Also, it would take some work to revolutionize SGAa when i think it makes more sense to form a student union that is democratic, anti-bureaucratic, and offers space for serious political discussion and action that empowers instead of deflates the individual participants. I dont know of the environment on other campuses, but here in CT a revolutionizing of state college SGAs will just not work.

    I guess the meaning is tht different schools have different contexts, so the strategy should be by context, however national orgnaization can be based off the cali model. Focused on solidairty, respecting political diversity, willingness to work with those who want to work on the issue, but also having important critical discussions (which would hopefully expose USSA folks or similar redirection types), and open democratic decision making. I think this works, we know what it looks like in character, its just a matter of building a movement that demands it and begins to organize for it.

  8. Hoytcha Avatar

    In Wisconsin, the Board of Regents have no power. They are appointed directly by the governor and can be removed by him, effectively making them nothing more than his shills. I feel that this could be the case in Georgia and California as well.
    But to pressure the governor and legislature of a state takes much more than periodic action. It takes organization on an industrial model, some kind of consolidated student organization seperate from student government or even from campus labor organizations. Can we transform student government into a student union that doesn’t lobby but does direct action against state governments? Can we collect dues, marshal resources and consolidate the movement so we’re ready before the University budget comes up? I think we can. But it will take a real strategic focus that we don’t currently have. State government makes tuition decisions, not Boards of Regents or the Federal government. We need to know who the decision makers are. Only with solid organization and the courage to scare off USSA opportunists can we make more than a symbolic stand against these highly entrenched interests. Look at the Canadian Federation of Students. They have achieved multi-year tuition freezes in most Canadian provinces. The Quebecois student union, ASSE, has successfully shut down the ports, government run casinos and the Montreal stock exchange in recent years. Now that’s throwing down…

  9. Wes Avatar

    Well, I think Cali has offered us a model that seems to work. The focus on mass action and orientation far exceeds previous occupations by leaps and bounds. I echo a lot of your comments about other models, but I would expect there will be a lot of details coming out of Cali for a while. I think they certainly exemplify the importance of long term struggles, coalition building, solidarity and unity on common goals, along with how to work with different tendencies. The support they gained form union rank and filers was crucial to as faculty stepped in to help out in several places and financed buses to UCLA from multiple locations. Their model I think is fairly concrete and successful, though it will be certainly tested as we move forward. The focus on mass education, action, and support has worked. I think the amount of creativity the applied in actions and strategy helped a lot, too, but I think they were ab le to tap into a common feeling among students, organize a space for mass participation, decision making, and action, and worked thier butts off to make it something that would be memorable. Of course, the coalition work that they did did a lot of work for them as it put a lot of feet on the streets building these actions while still allowing for space for groups to organize events themselves.

    I read a decent response on the SDS womyn’s blog about the occupations that is located here:

  10. R Avatar

    Here’s a statement we’re working out on our own fee increases in Georgia. Input welcome.

    Have you heard the latest? Our wise administrators, the Georgia Board of Regents, decided we could afford yet another $100 fee hike next semester! Yes, they’ve done this exact thing before–and unless we do something about it, they’ll do it again. For now, our Spring tuition will include an extra $200 mandatory student fee not covered by HOPE and applicable to all students.(1) If that isn’t enough, an unspecified amount of staff and faculty will experience layoffs, furloughs, and cuts to meager wages and benefits.

    Why are they taking these measures? The economic crisis has starved Georgia of crucial tax revenue. Furthermore, the state has not taken any significant proactive measures to raise funds from the portion of society hit least hard by the crisis. The only thing left for the Regents to do, in this case, is to raise funds from students and campus workers–all of whom have been hit harder than the wealthiest 5% that have kept their assets and profits (if not their employees).

    Considering the Regents’ backgrounds in finance, investment firms, corporate law, and the like, it’s difficult to imagine them calling for increased commitments from wealthy taxpayers in Georgia, instead of the tens of thousands struggling students (often with already massive debt) and campus workers. That’s why it’s our job to make this call. The answer is getting the creators of the crisis to sacrifice what they still have–not getting us to sacrifice the future we’ve yet to live.

    1) Removal of all mandatory student fees passed since the beginning of the economic crisis.
    2) No layoffs, furloughs, or cuts to wages, benefits, and hours for campus workers.
    3) No cuts to other cash-strapped public programs to cover the gap–raise income taxes on the super-rich instead.

    Of course, we’re not the only students targeted. University of California students(2), for example, are being hit with proposed 32% fee increases and layoffs! Students and workers are responding in heroic way, mobilizing tens of thousands, striking, walking out of classes, and even occupying campus buildings. It’s time for Georgia to join this nation-wide movement for higher education.

    1) Sign our petition to the Board of Regents.
    2) Join our facebook group, “Georgia Students AGAINST Fee Hikes.”
    3) Send the Georgia Board of Regents a letter of protest at

    Who are we? We are Georgia students and campus workers that are bled dry and unwilling to take the abuse anymore. We are non-partisan and benefit from the support of many student organizations across the state. We formed this network knowing that this isn’t the end, but perhaps the beginning of the end…the future of public education is bleak if we can’t shift state priorities drastically and soon. If you agree, JOIN US TODAY!

    (1) The current $200 fee total applies to students at GSU, Georgia Tech, and UGA. Some other four-year universities, like KSU, will raise fees from $75 to $150. Students at two-year and state colleges will have fees raised from $50 to $100.

    (2) For more information on UC protests, check out

  11. Hoytcha Avatar

    This was a really inspiring autumn at UC, long overdue. I’ve been watching developments closely and I wonder how this movement will consolidate itself. At University of Wisconsin we organized this kind of campaign against budget cuts over the last few years but we would often come up against the “official” student movement, groups like United States Students Association, which had no interest in direct action and attempted to funnel all of our efforts into lobbying and Democratic Party politics. USSA is still at it, they even publicly disowned the UCLA occupation when they talked to CNN!:
    Unfortunately, another strain in the student movement, those we colloquially called “manarchists,” in the early 2000’s, also act as a barrier to a consolidated movement. They use the “occupy everything” motto, and they oppose any kind of consolidated structure, often insert silly demands, and reject any attempts at real study of the state and the university’s decision-making structure. With an almost ideological opposition to strategic thinking, they act as the perfect straw man fo the self-serving opportunists at USSA and it’s affiliates to totally discredit direct action and militancy.
    There has to be a third way! Which is it? Many of us have thought of the Canadian model of collective bargaining and Student Unionism on the part of undergraduates. This idea is very hard to adopt to the US context and is strongly opposed by the official student movement. The movement at UMASS Amherst, where student government was transformed into a fighting organization that occupied buildings 2 years ago can serve as a real model. I am interested in other people’s ideas on models for how a unified and consolidated, while militant student movement against budget cuts can save the education system in the US.

  12. Wes Avatar

    It also provides undeniable insight into NYC occupations and presents a model that undeniably works, even if demands are not met. I think the folks who say occupy everything, demand nothing totally ignore the importance of the process of forming demands, and cofdifying political unity. And it think it si wiked rad that these folks have made demands, are serious about them, but have also said F ’em! realizing that thier mass mob’s are the real reason they are there. keep up the good work! and I think Nick is right. I hav eheard whisperings of a national day of student actions against cuts is in the works – my wouldnt that be HUGE.

  13. Nick Avatar

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the first mass response to the ruling-class offensive that is accompanying the recession? I think it’s easily as important as the Ford “No” vote in that respect. At any rate, it goes without saying that this is a crucial fight and that we should all be thinking about solidarity actions.