“We Are All Workers” say UW student militants

Custodians Unite To Fight

Illustration by an anonymous University of Washington custodian

The anti-budget cut movement has unfolded quickly in the past few months after a UC walkout on September 24th of 2009 served as a catalyst for the already existing but increasingly uncreative organizing around the budget cuts on universities and community colleges that’s been going on for years in California and across the country. The past years has seen a large shift from isolated local struggles that involved petitioning or the annual March On Sacramento to more concerted and united actions and tactics reaching out internationally.

The tactic of occupation had a domino effect, injecting the politics of struggle into a movement that is broadening to a larger working-class struggle against increased exploitation levied against working people because of the capitalist crisis. March 4th, the date decided by a CA Statewide Organizing Conference for a statewide strike and day of action against the cuts, has expanded to become a national day of action to defend public education. Here in California there has been a push to connect the education struggle with defense of social services like healthcare and public transit, workers fighting against layoffs and speed-ups, and struggle against the closing of homeless shelters.

This move towards a more working-class-focused struggle for education, jobs, and social services has diversified the face of the movement beyond that of the angry privileged college student who just wants classes and cheaper tuition.  A more diverse face, however, is a step behind organizational unity.

Some student groups have worked to actually organize with workers on their campuses to protect jobs, ensure safe working conditions and win better wages and benefits.  Democracy Insurgent, a group at the University of Washington at Seattle, has put together a zine entitled We Are All Workers on their experiences organizing with the service workers on their campus.

We Are All Workers DI Zine

Check out the hard work DI is putting in.

They closely analyze the budget cuts to universities, the methods by which the bosses on campus speed up the work of custodians and personal stories of campus workers.

The experiences in struggle detailed in the zine below should serve as a response to some who argue that our demands and resistance should stay limited solely to education.  The workers on college campuses are usually subject to what students are only now experiencing as “budget cuts”: the process of preserving the rate of profit at the expense of the working class.

On March 4th it is they who must stand up tallest and yell out loudest that we are all workers, that the exploitation and oppression that we daily face at the universities, restaurants, hospitals, high schools or buses where we work will not end with a March to Sacramento or some minor reforms, but with a broader and systemic change in the organization of wealth and power.

6 responses to ““We Are All Workers” say UW student militants

  1. Pingback: California Death And Awakening « Kloncke

  2. Thanks for the shout out and analysis. As the folks in AS know, the title of the ‘zine (we are all workers) and the analysis in the introduction were influenced by Esteban’s piece “Students as Positive Proletarian Actors”. We hope that some of the folks from Democracy Insurgent can write a more thorough response to that piece in the future. In any case, its exciting to see a tendency emerging in the anti-budget cuts fight of folks who want to build student-worker unity both in California and elsewhere. I’m looking forward to collaborating with ya’ll!

    We posted an analysis of the ‘zine over on the Gathering Forces blog if folks are interested. It situates it in the tradition of the Johnson Forrest Tendency’s American Worker pamphlet: http://gatheringforces.org/2009/11/04/we-are-all-workers-stories-of-struggle-at-the-university-of-washington/.

    Also, here is a video of the UW worker’s struggle when it was at its peak last spring. It was this set of actions that solidified our relationship with the rank and file custodians. We organized for this in break meetings in the various shifts and built off of informal workgroups that the workers had built over the past decade of shop floor struggles. We wrote flyers and lists of demands together with rank and file militants and this was the result:

    As you can see from the video that AS posted from last week’s action, energy has decreased since these actions last May because of severe management and police repression and opposition from the union bureaucracy. The ‘zine project and other collaborations with workers at a lower frequency held us together between the peak of worker militancy last spring and the rising student militancy that is starting now (partly influenced by what ya’ll are doing there.) Students in the UW Student Worker Coalition just decided to call a 1 hour strike on March 4th in solidarity with ya’ll down in California. We will be putting forward both workers and students demands on our picket lines. We will see how that impacts the workers’ struggle – we hope custodians will feel that students are getting their backs and that they can once again begin to take the lead knowing that the momentum is building again.

  3. That was an inspiring action in the video. We need more imagination and creativity in our efforts towards bringing a class struggle focus to fights in education. Marches on Sacramento and rallies at the same places in the exact same manner are just sad demonstrations of passivity and impotence.

    In the video, I especially liked demand #7, calling for loans to be replaced with grants. It ended even better, by saying “stop calling loans financial aid.” This is especially true in California, where some of the same banksters that tricked people into subprime mortgages are also deceiving people into subprime student loans. While not inconsistent with the exploitative logic of capital, it is duplicitous when someone like UC regent Richard Blum, Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband, is calling for tax cuts which will gut financing for UC while at the same time investing in privatized schools providing subprime loans that fleece students. Here’s an example (from http://changinguniversities.blogspot.com/2009/11/several-regents-support-cutting-taxes.html):

    “Not only are several regents against any new taxes to fund public institutions, but they are actively working to privatize higher education. For instance, regent Blum is a major stake-holder in a company called Career Education Corporation. This organization invests in for-profit colleges [like Phoenix University] and has recently been sued several times for providing sub-prime loans to students at institutions that do not provide the services they advertise. It turns out that the median graduation rate at proprietary schools is 38%, and many students end up without a degree, while accumulating huge student loans with interest rates in the double digits.”

    Blum got his due a year ago when 60 UC employees and 10 students stormed his office in San Francisco’s Financial District (see this account: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/01/18/18564405.php).

    Before the 1960 Donohoe Master Plan for Education in California, the state “had one of the most inclusive, tuition-free, publicly-supported higher-education systems in the U.S.” The Donohoe Plan created 3 tiers, using class-based tracking that actually reduced ethnic diversity. Once the plan was implemented, SF State went from 12% African American to 3%, at a time when the K-12 public schools in San Francisco were 70% nonwhite.

    Ronald Reagan was a Hollywood movie star who rose to the governorship in 1966, campaigning to “clean up the mess in Berkeley.” His agenda as governor was to attack public education and to dismantle other New Deal social programs. He frequently attacked student protestors, calling them “brats,” “freaks,” and “cowardly fascists”; when confronted with campus unrest and the need for “restoring order” he said, “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement!” Within days, four students were shot to death by the National Guard in protests against the Vietnam War at Kent State, fulfilling Reagan’s prophesy.

    Reagan’s agenda was simple:

    1. He called for an end of free tuition for the UC and State College (as CSU was called then) systems.

    2. Each year, he cut the higher education budget by 20%, making raised fees inevitable.

    3. As U.S. president, he even proposed eliminating the Department of Education as part of his neoliberal agenda of destroying all social programs and removing all traces of the New Deal. When he began office as president, the federal share of the education budget was 12%; when he left office, it was under 6%.

    Universities like UC were created through the Morrill Act, during Lincoln’s administration in 1862, as land-grant colleges to provide “practical” education — meaning in the mechanical, agricultural and military arts. But since the federal government put up the money, the states are legally restricted to providing free education for all qualified residents of the state. So they can’t call the fees they charge tuition. Reagan simply pushed through fees that started at $150 a year, doubled and tripled every few years, until today an undergrad at UC pays $10,300 a year — so there’s little difference from tuitions at private universities and colleges.

    As Bob Meister’s brilliant analysis (see it here: http://keepcaliforniaspromise.org/482/where-does-uc-tuition-go) shows, the UC System is using revenue streams from student fees as collateral to maintain its bond ratings to finance capital building projects, almost none of which is earmarked for classroom instruction. Most UC campuses have large numbers of construction sites, giving the appearance of a “building boom”—in stark contrast to the rhetoric of “crisis” used to justify raising student fees. One part of the ideological propaganda campaign by UC System President Mark Yudoff is demonizing taxpayers, rooted in Reaganite ideas of privatization, which California voters confirmed with roll-backs on property taxes with Proposition 13 in 1978 (but mostly benefiting commercial property owners)—pushed with racist myths of suburbanites subsidizing welfare cheats in the ghetto. The struggle over housing in California, often through the divisive use of racism, has been as inextricably connected to class relations as education and access to jobs. So with loans as the only option, students are being encouraged to mortgage their future to purchase increasingly expensive educational commodities.


    Lastly, I want to say that I think that the use of “We Are All Workers” by Democracy Insurgent is dead-on correct. Marc Bousquet’s book “How the University Works” drives the same idea home in chapter 4, entitled “Students Are Already Workers” (available here: http://marcbousquet.net/Bousquet_4.pdf). His stats show that 80% of undergraduates in higher education work; 50% average a 25-hour week; 30% work more than 40 hours; and 20% don’t work at all. It creates this dilemma of identities: Are you a student-who-works or a worker-who-studies? But the misery of this situation is further exacerbated by the creation of a just-in-time labor system where 26% of all workers in the U.S. today have no stable job at all, they’re precarious, temporary, non-permanent workers. This is due to offshoring, automation, the near absence of organized labor in the private sector, and basic changes to the class composition as employers adopt new management techniques to cut their labor costs.

    This is seen most severely in the 47 million (58.4% of the labor force) who don’t have healthcare. The U.S. is the only advanced industrial country in the world where the state does not provide some form of basic healthcare. So job security is all the more important, since the social compact after World War II left the provision of healthcare to the corporations as something to be negotiated for in collective bargaining agreement. Which also meant that in lean times, such as now, they can be bargained — or simply taken — away.

    The leading employer in the U.S. today is Wal-Mart, followed by the temporary employment agency Manpower, so it’s clear that these conditions are our future if we don’t start fighting back. See BusinessWeek’s article “The Disposable Worker” (available here: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_03/b4163032935448.htm) for further elaboration of these trends.

    So it’s all the more necessary that our actions on March 4th are conceived of in class terms, drawing in public sector workers affected just as severely by these class war attacks on living conditions. And then hopefully drawing in private sector workers, the unemployed, the homeless and everyone who’s working class. Last week news agencies reported that banks had increased their bonuses for executives by 18% from 2008 to 2009. That means that the robber barons are lining their pockets while trying to enforce wage reductions, furloughs, and mass layoffs of working class people — the Wall St. Journal reported last month that across the U.S. public transit fees had gone up 17%, in addition public services have been eliminated, privatized or had their fees drastically raised. This must be resisted and a general strike on March 4th will be our opportunity to fight back.


  4. Sorry for the broken links. Here they are again:

    The story about UC Regent Richard Blum’s investments in privatized education and subprime student loans:


    Marc Bousquet’s book “How the University Works,” has these amazing stats in Chapter 4, entitled “Students Are Already Workers,” which is available here:

    Click to access Bousquet_4.pdf

    And the revealing BusinessWeek article called “The Disposable Worker,” because the title says it all:


    And I’ll finish with a paragraph from the book “Black Power & Student Rebellion: Conflict on the American Campus,” that’s in the chapter ‘The Struggle for San Francisco State.” In discussing the 5-month 1968-1969 student and faculty strike, it says:

    “The nonsymbolic nature of the S.F. State strike was likewise reflected in the tactics, which carefully avoided the usual ritual seizure of buildings and planned confrontations with police. Instead of ‘living the revolution’ inside an occupied building for a brief apocalyptic period culminating in a Big Bust, and then attempting to prolong things by playing upon the shock of police occupation (which at many campuses, is becoming less and less of a shock), the TWLF [Third World Liberation Front] opted for a ‘protracted struggle,’ closing the campus and keeping it shut down not by simply impairing normal campus activity, but by making it totally impossible” (p. 296).

    While occupations can act as a spark, as well as a base of operation for further activity, they quickly run into their limitation when used as the sole tactic. Our strike on March 4th will only be successful when it goes beyond the campuses and becomes the struggle of students and workers united by their common class interests, spreading into a general strike that could conceivably shut down the entire city (to stoke our imaginations, think: Seattle in 1919, San Francisco in 1934, and Oakland in 1946 — or to be ol’ school on y’all, think of the student involvement in the Revolution of 1848 in places like Paris, Vienna and Prague).


  5. Pingback: “We Are All Workers” say UW student militants « At Home He's A Turista

  6. Here is a radio show that just came out about the custodian struggle at UW and Democracy Insurgent’s involvement in it. It’s frustrating but typical that a spokesperson for AFSME/WFSE felt the need to criticize rank and file worker- student solidarity at UW, especially since it has shown clear results: we managed to preserve 50 swing-shift positions last spring and have managed to stop some of the shop floor harassment and retaliation, especially police harassment, through these actions. Democracy Insurgent’s response was that we are not against the union – our allegiance is to rank and file union members who want to take action. There are some good interviews with worker militants about how managerial discipline is enforced on the shop floor.

    here is the link to download the audio file of the report: http://kbcsweb.bellevuecollege.edu/downloads/One_World_Report/OWR_20100204/OWR_20100204_UW_Custodians_LT.mp3

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