We, the University of Sussex UCU (University and College Union), write to express our solidarity with striking graduate students at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) and our condemnation of the punitive action taken by UCSC management including its recent deplorable action of dismissing 54 students from their teaching positions.
At least 82 UCSC graduate students have been on strike since December 2019, taking ‘wildcat’ action (i.e. action without the official protection of their union) to fight for a cost of living adjustment (COLA), so that they can afford to live, study, and teach. On 28 February, UCSC fired 54 striking students contracted for teaching positions in Spring. The remaining 28 striking students will no longer be considered for paid academic appointments at the University for the 2019-20 academic year.
As a union of workers in academia, we commend the powerful struggle of graduate student strikers in the UC system and condemn in the strongest terms the UCSC administration’s efforts to intimidate and discipline its student workers. A university that imports riot police to arrest its own students (as it did during the first week of COLA strike protests in December 2019) and then dismisses graduate students from their paid employment (leaving UG courses without teaching assistants), is in truth not operating in the interest of any of its students. Graduate workers who are fighting against poverty wages for academic labour in the face of exorbitant, ever-skyrocketing rent, should be applauded and not fired, as is shown by tremendous acts of solidarity taken by precarious workers, students and faculty across the UC system.
As academic workers in the UK currently engaged in nationwide strike action, we understand our own struggle for improved working conditions to be continuous with that of the UCSC strikers and the increasing numbers of COLA strikers across the UC system. Precarity, dwindling pay, unsustainable workloads and structural inequalities are systemic problems in HE hitting graduate students particularly hard both here and in the US, and motivating a broader political movement where student-worker solidarity, and solidarity between those with job security and those without, drives a fight for educational justice.
As workers at the University of Sussex, we look locally to our institution in the face of UCSC’s unconscionable action against its students. Both founded in the early 1960s, UC Santa Cruz and Sussex share histories of interdisciplinarity and student radicalism. They also share a strong inter-institutional relationship through several partnership agreements, two of which Sussex VC Adam Tickell and former UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal signed in 2017-18. Adam Tickell has stated that among all of Sussex’s international partnerships, the UCSC partnership is “the one with the greatest potential because we have such similar institutions”. As members of UCU Sussex, we recognise the great potential and urgent need also for worker solidarity across our two institutions, especially as both sustain the exploitation of precarious workers — an issue at the centre of the current COLA and UCU strike actions.
Our calls to action:
We call the UCSC administration to meet with its graduate students, in good faith and in substantive conversation, to retract all disciplinary measures and to address the real and urgent financial needs of its workers.
We call all workers at Sussex to boycott research connections and collaborations with UCSC and the UC system until the dismissed workers have been reinstated, compensation provided, and the COLA demand is met.
We invite other UCU branches to join us in this boycott.
As members of UCU, we are able to strike with the legal protection of our union. The very fact of a wildcat strike taken by the UCSC students without the support of their union (UAW) shows their level of desperation. As union members, then, we stand in solidarity with those strikers and commit to supporting their struggle.
To donate to the UCSC student strike fund: