Far rightwinger David Horowitz announced in 2007 that UC Santa Cruz was the most subversive school in America. Why? In 2005 and 2006, UCSC had a wealth of labor struggles, anti-war activity and other forms of radical activism. The Pentagon was caught spying on anti-war activists due to succesful shutdowns against military recruiters.
Labor struggles also were noticed throughout the country as AFSCME 3299, one of California’s biggest public sector unions engaged in the first ever statewide one day strike in 2005 (see Estamos Aqui film).
As activists gear up towards building for March 4, some have framed the success of the AFSCME strike simply due to it being a “mass action” and not “liberal” or “ultraleft.” The problem with such categories is it depoliticizes the actual history of the struggle and ignores a key battle that took place, the struggle against the trade-union bureaucracy and its ideology.
Student Worker Coalition for Justice (SWCJ) was a dynamic student group, with a few active workers (not nearly enough) that helped organize the one-day strike and debated out strategy for its success. An undergrad IWW student activist wrote a reflective analysis of the labor struggles that took place at UCSC in 2005. In it, he posits how we should understand the source of agency and the role of the trade-union bureaucracy in labor struggles. This piece should have some political use value for students and workers who are hitting themselves on the head with frustration due to the deep passivity of unions and their unwillingness to struggle against layoffs and budget cuts.
Reflections from Two Quarters of Organizing with the SWCJ
My aim is to express some of the critical reflections and analysis I have made of the organizing I was involved in with the Student & Worker Coalition for Justice over the course of the Winter and Spring quarters of 2005. By no means did I develop the ideas and analysis I am putting forward on my own. It is an analysis I arrived at with many of my SWCJ comrades, developed mostly in informal settings and casual conversations. My intention is to spark further collective analysis and greater political definition of the organization, as well as promote the idea that the Student Worker Coalition for Justice should create formal forums for this type of activity to occur.
A Debate of Tactics or Political Definition?
Leading up to the April 14th strike a debate within the Student Worker Coalition for Justice arose. It revolved around the following question: Should the emphasis and aim of the strike be to receive positive media coverage and “shame” the university or should it’s central emphasis and aim be to shut down the school through militant mass direct action, demonstrating the real power of the workers derived from their ability to withhold their labor? Some may not remember this debate in such sharp terms, or even recognize it as a debate of two conflicting tendencies, largely, because it was masked and softened by the terms with which it was framed, and because the two sides of the debate were never in overt opposition to one another. No one ever objected to mass direct action outright, but during these discussions the advocates of mass direct action were continually asked if our actions would remain “on message” and they were met with a defeatist attitude that implied that what they advocated was fantastical. Though masked and couched in civil language, the debate did occur. It was sharpest at the Sunday, April 10th meeting held at the AFSCME office specifically to address the forms of direct action the coalition would organize. Even after we had collectively decided to engage in mass direct action this decision came into question yet again at the Tuesday, April 12th meeting at Stevenson College.