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UC Students, Workers Launch 3-Day Strike

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday November 19, 2009 - 09:28:00 AM
Protesters rallied on campus and marched throughout downtown Berkeley Wednesday to voice their dissatisfaction with the University of California’s budget priorities.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Protesters rallied on campus and marched throughout downtown Berkeley Wednesday to voice their dissatisfaction with the University of California’s budget priorities.
Protesters demand that UC officials "Hear Our Voices!"
Richard Brenneman
Protesters demand that UC officials "Hear Our Voices!"
Strikers began picketing entrances to the UC Berkeley campus at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Raymond Barglow
Strikers began picketing entrances to the UC Berkeley campus at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Students demonstrate against the "privatization" of the University of California.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Students demonstrate against the "privatization" of the University of California.

It was anything but business as usual at UC Berkeley Wednesday as students, faculty members and workers embarked on a three-day strike to protest budget cuts, furloughs and fee hikes. 

Chanting “Whose university? Our university!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!” the students once again marched from Sproul Hall to downtown Berkeley and to Berkeley High School and Berkeley City College to rally for their cause. 

Drumbeats, dance music, bells, whistles, sirens and screams filled the air as hundreds gathered on Sproul Plaza, evoking a scene similar in spirit, if not in numbers, to the Sept. 24 UC walkout, at which more than 5,000 people marched to protest the cuts. 

Wednesday’s strike started as early as 5 a.m. with picket lines forming in front of campus construction sites and, starting about 7 a.m., at the main entrances to the campus. 

David Kessler, a member of the Coalition of Union Employees, was handing out CUE buttons to passers-by. 

“A lot of students are taking our buttons, even if they’re going to class today,” he said. “We understand that. Education is what our movement is all about. What the campus community is doing here today—that’s what we mean by ‘Go Bears.’” 

Although quite a few students said they had missed class to take part in the rally, many stuck to their regular routine. 

Wearing T-shirts reading “Hey, hey, Mark Yudof, don’t sell our future off,” students vented their frustrations regarding fee increases. 

Facing a $1.2 billion deficit next year, a UC Regents’ committee voted Wednesday at UCLA to increase student fees and adopt a financial plan asking the state to fund the university’s needs. 

More than two dozen people were arrested at UCLA Wednesday during a protest against the fee hikes. 

The fee increases are part of the 2010-11 operating budget, which seeks an additional $913 million to pay for unfunded enrollment growth and to restore program cuts, stop employee furloughs and contribute to the UC Retirement Plan.  

The regents acted at the recommendation of UC President Mark G. Yudof, who said the budget “is designed to provide access, maintain quality and stabilize the fiscal health of the university.” 

The UC Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on the fee and budget proposals Thursday. 

After the noon rally, the marchers walked to California Hall before sending busloads of students to UCLA to protest at the regents’ Thursday meeting.  

The protesters are also planning to dump trash outside California Hall Thursday at 3 p.m. to show their anger about the 32 percent fee increase. 

“We declare it’s not business as usual,” said UC Berkeley Professor Ananya Roy, to cheers from the crowd on the Sproul Hall steps Wednesday. “I am here to say ‘not in my name.’ I call upon UC’s top administration to stand with us in solidarity ... Friends, it is time to raise hell. It is time to take back the university and the state of California. This may be the best education we have ever had.” 

Cynthia Ubilla, a Fulbright Scholar at UC Berkeley, said she was attending the strike to show support for her friends. 

“I have a scholarship, but a fee hike for my friends means that their loans will go up,” she said. “It means less opportunities for them, for the thousands of minority students who come here.” 

Mary June Flores, a member of CalServe, which organized the strike along with the Solidarity Alliance, said that students were also organizing Open University lectures all day Thursday. 

“We want to let people know that public education is not only for UC Berkeley students,” she said.  

Flores contended that a fee increase would create more chaos, 

“It will show that the regents are not listening to the students,” she said. 

UC faculty member Joshua Clover criticized what he called the “privatization of a public university.” 

“They have interests, we have solidarity,” he said. “Solidarity is knowing that while your life may be different from the person standing next to you, different from the undocumented North African worker in France, different from the student in Zagreb—knowing still that you share a common desire, a common urgency. That you will not accept the privatizing away of your common lives.” 

UC Santa Cruz faculty member Barbara Epstein said her institution was by far the worst off in the 10-campus UC system. 

“We are more reliant on public funds,” she explained. “Our humanities department is facing the biggest crisis. History, philosophy are not money-making programs. If the next project cuts come through, then there will be no support for graduate students, no money for repairing buildings. If a door stays open, it will stay that way.” 

University officials have implemented hiring freezes and furloughs and have laid off custodians and building maintenance workers in the past few months to address the budget cuts, angering many in the UC community. 

Eugene Estokes, a building maintenance worker on campus, listened intently to Clover’s speech from the Student Union balcony. 

“I am in danger of losing my job, and I am confused about what to do,” he said, shaking his head. “My 15-year-old, who goes to Berkeley High, asked me yesterday ‘Daddy, will I be able to go to college?’ and I stumbled to give her an answer.” 

UC Berkeley third-year social welfare student Cherrie Chen said she missed two classes Wednesday morning to show support for the rally. 

“I just couldn’t bring myself to cross the picket lines,” she said. “That would be disrespecting my co-students’ rights.” 

Chen said her professor, Ananya Roy, had canceled class because of the strike. 

A group of students from UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design held signs protesting the increases in professional school fees in 2010-11. 

“It’s being sold to us as a way of getting access to the professional world but it’s going to end up being a stopgap measure for these budget cuts,” said Jessica Luk, a graduate student in the City Planning Department. “It’s a step to privatization. This fee violates the principles of our university system.” 

The fee increases are expected to bring $505 million in revenue, of which $175 million would used toward financial aid. 

“We can no longer tolerate fiscal uncertainty and continual cutting as we wait for Sacramento to navigate through this crisis,” Yudof said in a statement. “We will keep working hard with state political leaders to restore the university’s funding to an appropriate level. In the meantime, however, we must act now to shore up our own finances if we are to preserve the quality and ensure the access that California expects from the world’s premier public research university system ... I know this is a painful day for university students and their families, but as I stand here today I can assure you this is our one best shot at preventing this recession from pulling down a great system toward mediocrity.” 

Luk said she was a little upset there weren’t more students protesting the fee hikes. 

“But it’s just the first day, so let’s see what happens over the next few days.” 

A first-year UC Berkeley science student left her Chemistry 1A class around 1:30 p.m. 

“I support the strike, but you can’t really miss Chem 1A,” she said smiling. “Some people have midterms this week, and they still have to submit papers.” 


Raymond Barglow contributed to this report.