Photo from @UCLA4COLA Instagram
Emotions were riding high the morning of March 5th as the graduate-student fight for a cost of living adjustment (aka COLA) reached new heights during a rally held on Janss Steps. Over 500 graduates, undergraduates, faculty, and allies took part in a UC-wide walkout to protest the administration’s refusal to pay graduate students a living wage.
Thursday’s protest comes as a result of various labor injustices across the UC campuses, most notably the firing of 54 graduate students at UC Santa Cruz just last week. Protestors are arguing that the fired grads at UCSC will now not be able to feed their families or have TA jobs in the spring. Furthermore, they worry that international students are now at risk of de facto deportation.
In the assembly following the rally, grad students overwhelmingly voted in support of a full wildcat strike through the department-by-department method. A wildcat strike is a strike without union support. A department-by-department method, in this scenario, means that once 10 departments have voted to support the strike, then the wildcat strike will be in full force.
Some teaching assistants and faculty took part in the walkout by cancelling class. Others, like Abraham Calderon, a Sociology PhD student who spoke at the rally, exercised his activism by bringing his class out to the rally. When asked why he chose to bring his class out instead of cancelling, Abraham said that he wanted to take the opportunity to connect the material taught in his American Interracial Dynamics classroom to something happening on our own campus.
The energy of the event was best captured when Jason De Leon, professor of Anthropology and Chicanx Studies, demonstrated his unapologetic support at the rally with his closing statement, “If my TA’s aren’t gonna teach, then I’m not gonna f***ing teach either!”
When speaking with a group of Environmental Science grad students, topics about safety and comradery were highlighted. Candice said that she, “feels safe when I’m with you guys” in reference to the group she came with.
Blanca said that the COLA strikes need more STEM departments to get involved and support, because the current representation has been lackluster.
In regards to police involvement, Erick – an LA native – noted, “there has not been a good relationship with cops and minorities in the past,” and also said that the current policing for the COLA events reminds him of getting policed in high school.
Undergrad students have also been coming to the picket line in support of a COLA for grad students.
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) and African-American Studies (AFAM) grads have also recently released their own statement of demands. MEChA against the administration of the Community Programs Office and AFAM students against the structure of their department. When asked about the upsurge in student activism from other organizations and departments, Bilqis Kulungu – a fourth year French and Arabic double major – said that, “COLA is serving as the catalyst for other departments to come out with their own demands.”
Ana Lisa, a fourth year International Development Studies major, said that these collective movements demonstrate the hypocrisy of UCLA admin who advertise the flourishing diversity of this institution, but fail to actually implement inclusive policy and spaces for their students to thrive.
It is clear that the fight for a COLA is gaining visible traction across the state, and that the UC admin has been put into a difficult situation.
Keep a close eye on the voting results for a full-on wildcat strike, as well as on other departments who are riding the momentum of resistance. We may be in the midst of a large-scale reform movement at UCLA.