COLA for All – Statement by YDSA Members at the University of California

A statement by YDSA Chapter Members at the University of California about their struggle for a Cost of Living Adjustment for All — an example of YDSA members linking campus labor struggles to the fight for a just response to COVID-19.

Cost of Living Adjustment for All

The University of California does not care about us.

Over the past few years, as skyrocketing housing prices and rent have forced increasing numbers of workers and students into precarious living conditions, how has the UC administration responded? Have they expanded on-campus affordable housing, or provided a cost of living adjustment for their workers? Have they even simply paid their workers more, so they can continue to actually live close to where they work and earn enough to survive? 

No. The UC administration has prioritized projects that attract big investor money and privatize the UC at the expense of projects that might increase our quality of education and ensure their employees’ working conditions and overall welfare. They have outsourced jobs to cut costs, claimed that graduate workers are just ‘students’ in order to deny them their contract-bound rights, and have conducted a heinous campaign of union busting across the UC campuses in order to destroy what collective bargaining power the workers have built. 

When graduate workers at UC Santa Cruz, fed up with the administration’s indifference and unable to continue living under such high costs, went on a wildcat strike to fight for a cost of living adjustment, the UC responded by attacking on several fronts. First, they attacked the strikers themselves: they brought in militarized police to physically assault strikers in an attempt to break their blockade, and when that failed, they fired over 80 workers, barred them from any positions represented by UAW 2865, and left them without a job going into spring quarter and the summer. Second, they tried to destroy their union: they threatened UAW 2865 with an Unfair Labor Practice lawsuit if they dared to support their own rank-and-file members participating in the strike. UAW leadership at UCSC even had to resign from their positions before joining the wildcat, in order to try to limit blowback on the union, but in the end it didn’t matter what the strikers and UAW did: the UC filed a ULP anyway, which forced  the union to divert scarce resources to fighting this false accusation. Administration has also attempted to bargain with unrepresentative third parties who are not connected to UAW 2865, undermining their status as graduate workers’ collective bargaining unit. In an era of the Janus decision, which destroyed public sector unions’ ability to collect dues from those they represent, and other federal-level attacks on university unions, the UC administration has decided to side with the Trump presidency in attacking their own workers and students. A progressive university indeed.

As socialists, however, we understand that this is not merely the fault of one person or a group of people’s bad decision-making or greed. The University of California is a capitalist institution, and so it follows capital’s logics of profit, exploitation, and repression. These are inherent to the institution itself, and so will only be changed when we, as students and workers who run the UC, force it to change. Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter members across the UC system have compiled this list of demands, not as a plea to the administration, but as a roadmap for our goals in the fight ahead.

We demand:

  • A Cost of Living Adjustment for ALL employees, bargained over through their representative labor unions when applicable.
  • Building more on-campus affordable housing and making existing on-campus housing more affordable.
  • No evictions or lay-offs during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Full pay and benefits guaranteed for workers sent home.
  • Unlimited sick leave for all UC employees during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • An end to the outsourcing of UC jobs.
  • A movement towards democratic decision making for faculty, students, and staff in all university budgeting decisions.
  • Demilitarization of all UC campuses 

In short, we demand a UC for All!

If you want to join us in this fight for the lives and wellbeing of our fellow students and workers, then plug into the YDSA chapter at your school, and consider the following concrete action items:

  • Get connected with UAW 2865 members and other labor unions at your school: attend organizing & strike committees, talk to your TAs..
    • Get a rank-and-file job represented by UAW 2865: UAW 2865 also represents undergraduate academic workers, including tutors.
    • Organize undergraduate student workers: If you work in a position on campus that isn’t currently covered by a campus union, you can still organize collectively with your co-workers for better rights, benefits, and protections.
    • Spread union news on social media: Retweet and share the latest from campus unions and other worker solidarity groups, and make and share your own socialist graphics about COLA, UAW, and workers at the UC.
    • Class raps: At the start of your (zoom) classes, take a second to tell the rest of your classmates about what the UC has been doing and how they can help.
    • Sign this letter and spread it around!

Want to support The Activist and help build a mass working-class movement by and for student socialists? Become a YDSA member today! YDSA members: we want to hear from you! Find out how to submit your work to The Activist here, and read our Spring 2020 Print Edition, now in PDF form!