Summary: Delivered to a rally of campus workers and their supporters at University of California, Santa Barbara – Editors
My name is Mariah Brennan Clegg, my pronouns are they/them, and I’m a sociologist. I’m also an anarchist, a Marxist-Humanist, and a member of the UAW, the Student Activist Network, and Bonfire Collective. Today I want to make three points. (1) There is broad support for AFSCME workers on this campus. (2) Their wishes are not being met solely because of the decisions of a few highly powerful individuals off campus. (3) So it’s time to change the system and democratize it.
First, what is AFSCME demanding? AFSCME workers are demanding nothing less than the right to secure their livelihoods and protect themselves and the rest of the UC community from privatization and state oppression. They are demanding an end to healthcare cuts and premium hikes. They are demanding a reasonable retirement age of 60. They are rejecting the UC’s lousy 2% pay increase and demanding an increase of 6%. They are demanding local hiring programs and better protections against sexual harassment. They are also demanding that the UC stop outsourcing labor to corporations that are as we speak aiding and abetting ICE. And AFSCME workers are demanding that the UC refuse to cooperate with ICE.
These contract negotiations have been going on for 20 months, and the UC has refused to meet the union’s demands. But hold on a second. What do we mean by the “UC”? Who exactly are we fighting here?
When I think of the UC, I think about my undergraduate students. The AS Senate just last week voted unanimously to support the AFSCME strikers, and they’ve shut down the AS Bike Shop and Pardall Center in solidarity.
When I think of the UC, I think about our administrative staff and technical support workers that make education possible here. I’ve seen Teamsters out on the line, and UPTE is striking in solidarity!
When I think of the UC, I think about my fellow grad students. While our UAW contract does not allow for sympathy strikes, I’ve seen my fellow educators striking with their conscious day after day, and urging our faculty to do the same. The faculty association and the lecturers’ union – UC-AFL – have both issued communications supporting the workers.
And most of all when I think of the UC, I think about the AFSCME workers here that make everything else on the campus RUN.
AFSCME has the support of this campus. So who IS against the workers?
There aren’t many of them, and they’re not here. AFSCME’s been stymied by the University of California Office of the President. This is a small but very powerful bureaucracy holding the fate of thousands of workers in their hands. The Office of the President is overseen by the UC President, a woman named Janet Napolitano. Janet is a former Secretary of Homeland Security and Governor of Arizona. She was appointed by the UC Regents. The Regents are a group of 26 businesspeople and politicians. This group of 26 regents and 1 figurehead are who we are fighting. They were not democratically elected. We can’t recall them. And with their massive power, they have squeezed MY UC dry. Their power is built on stolen land from indigenous peoples, with the stolen labor of thousands of workers, with stolen futures of thousands more students gravely in debt.
We are fighting, and we must win. But as long as these 27 people sit atop this massive pyramid of stolen wealth, whatever gains we make will be precarious. Without a true shift in power, a shift in who make the decisions, we will never be secure.
If AFSCME has the support of this campus, why aren’t we making our decisions here? On this campus. Why can’t we make a university that works for us, that is run by us? Janet and the Regents have been stealing our money, raising our tuition, and cutting corners for too long. We need to seize power by radically changing the structure of the UC. We need to demolish the UC at the state level and run our affairs from home. Only then can we be assured that our victories will last.
We must fight today for benefits and wages and protections. We must fight tomorrow to democratize the University. Get rid of Janet. Get rid of the Presidency. Get rid of the regents. And work toward self-governance so we can create our own resilient futures.