No Class is an op-ed column by writer and radical organizer Kim Kelly that connects worker struggles and the current state of the American labor movement with its storied — and sometimes bloodied — past.
Though it has only just begun, 2020 is already shaping up to be a pivotal year for the labor movement, including a group of workers in Santa Cruz, CA, that started the (academic) year off with a bang. Graduate students at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) have been on strike since February 10, after months of contentious conversations with the school administration. Unlike many of their peers across the country who have been shut out of organizing, the UCSC cohort are members of United Auto Workers Local 2865, a union that has long represented graduate students in the UC system. Their current contract, which was approved by others in the UC system, was ratified in 2018, but it was initially rejected by nearly 83% of UCSC graduate students. They have been organizing to try and get a better deal ever since.
Their biggest issue? The rent is too damn high, and their wages are far too low to be able to afford to live in the pricey Santa Cruz area. According to one of the strike’s organizers, Jane Komori, the vast majority of graduate student workers at UCSC spend more than 50% — and often 60 or 70% — of their wages on rent. As a result, the UCSC Graduate Student Association has been lobbying the university administration for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) of $1,412 per month since November. Those demands were unmet, so they decided to escalate: December was the beginning of a grading strike in which grad students withheld 12,000 grades at the end of the fall quarter; after they say the administration refused to meet with them, the workers decided to continue withholding grades through the entire winter semester. The Pay Us More UCSC movement was heating up….