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Central Valley | Education & Student Activism

Modesto Junior College Students at Breaking Point
by Modesto Anarcho
Monday Feb 28th, 2011 12:59 PM
A look at recent student struggles at MJC. Like Wisconsin, we must fight capital and recuperators as well.

Students at Modesto Junior College are faced with the most drastic cuts in several years. Reacting to the current Brown budget, which slashes community colleges of $400 million and the UCs and CSUs of even more money, according to Resist MJC Budget Cuts, "MJC will likely take an $8 million budget cut." In the wake of this decision, President Gaither Loewenstein has begun austerity measures such as the gutting of entire departments and the laying off of up to 8 full-time faculty members. What's worse for students is that student fees will jump to $66 dollars a unit, making a full load at MJC (12 units) cost over $1,000. And, like Schwarzenegger before him, Brown may also decide to cut student aid which many MJC and CSU Stanislaus students depend on. At the same time, the interim Chancellor Joan Smith, who currently makes over $200,000 a year, plus a car allowance, will likely get a $100,000 raise once made full time Chancellor. Hard times for who?

These attacks on MJC students, most of which are from working families and have jobs, bills, and/or kids themselves, mirrors what has also been happening at CSU Stanislaus over the past few years. There, under the direction of President Shirvani, faculty were laid-off, programs were gutted, winter term was abolished, fees rose, and Shirvani, got a nice pay raise along with the Board of Trustees of the CSU system.

In the past week, some students, many associated with the Student Government at MJC, have launched a series of protests on the campus. Today, students and staff were encouraged to wear black armbands to signal protest with the current budget decisions. Last Friday, students protested outside of Loewenstein's office, which resulted in a several hour discussion between angry students and the President. While the President took questions, he made it clear that he was not going to get into detail about why he had made the cuts that he did and repeated the line that he was "just doing his job," and was "working with what money was available."

One flyer that circulated addressed the issue of how capitalism is an ongoing cycle of boom, bust, and crisis and is unable to meet the needs of the people it exploits - leaving only the option of social revolution.

This crisis is not a mistake, it is an indication that capitalism is unable to reproduce itself. Capitalism exists by expansion but, being that the whole world is now under the rule of a capitalist world economy, there is now nowhere else for it to expand. This is not the first crisis, and every time this happens, the destructive effects of capitalism on working people worldwide is amplified.

Don't think for a second, students, that you are not workers. We work our jobs and then on our school work. We go to college to become workers with careers. Being that we are workers, it is our concern to recognize the fundamental contradiction in capitalism, and this is that capitalism absolutely requires workers to perpetuate and continue the production of capitalism, while at the same time it needs to destroy the workers as individuals and grind us down to mere doers that perform certain tasks in the hopes of a wage.

Capitalism absolutely cannot provide us a good and attainable education while balancing it's budget. The honeymoon of unsustainable lending and market expansion has finally ended and we find ourselves facing a threat to our very livelihoods. But, the possibility of a future in which labor benefits humanity as a whole is possible. It requires the disruption of the currents means of production, be it food, housing, and even the production of future workers, it must be taken from the individuals that own them and made a common concern amongst all people.

The crisis that is inherent to capitalism is upon us and the transformation of this social relationship isn't just possible - it is an absolute material necessity.
Speaking to ideas on how to fight in the current terrain, another flyer stated:

We must occupy the college, disrupting the ability of the administration to operate. Students and faculty must strike together, blocking the flow of human labor that keeps the school afloat. Solidarity is our strongest weapon, one that we must direct at our enemies.

On the minds of many of the protesters are the events in Wisconsin, which many pointed to as a possible model for resistance. However, union leaders there recently announced that they were going to agree to most of Governor Walker's cuts, except the one which stops collective bargaining and the collection of union dues. In short, the union bureaucrats saved their own asses and sold out those that they claim to represent. Tom Eley writes:
The union officials have limited their efforts to persuading several state Republicans to break with Walker and sign a “compromise” bill with Democrats that would slash public employees’ wages and benefits, gut Medicaid, public education and other social services. In return it would preserve the legal status of the unions to collect dues and bargain away the jobs, living standards and working conditions of the workers they ostensibly represent.
[On orders from union leaders] the teachers’ union called off job actions by their members as a “sign of good will” to the Republicans. Union officials have gone on record in opposition to the popular demand for a general strike. As of this writing upwards of 800 protesters remained in the capitol defying the threat of arrest and pressure by state Democrats and AFL-CIO officials who urged them to end the two-week occupation of the building.

After shutting down job actions by teachers last week, the unions have aligned themselves with Walker’s efforts to clear out the State Capitol building. The area open to demonstrators has been progressively scaled back, and on Saturday only one small door was left open for workers to enter the building. Workers say that the unions advised them to clear out on Sunday so the building could be “cleaned.”

Just as in Egypt, where the military has been cracking down on ongoing strikes and protests, the unions are interested only in saving themselves and containing working class (which includes students) action - not accelerating it. Students at MJC face a similar situation. The current budget was passed and given the thumbs up by many of the largest unions in the state - all of which helped Brown into office. What is important for them is that they stay in their position as managers of the working class, whether for workers in Wisconsin, or for workers in California. It is also telling what union leaders are calling on workers to do, besides end occupations and strike actions - and that is to "call their representatives in government." Eley writes:

[Union leaders are o]pposing any sympathy strikes by private sector workers—who have turned out en masse to express their solidarity with public employees—Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt called on workers to appeal to “their state senators and representatives about supporting workers rights.

This refrain mimics the calls by student "leaders" at Modesto Junior College to negotiate, talk to elected officials, and 'remain civil' - all while claiming to support 'resistance' and 'take action if needed.' When is the time to act but not now? Student organizing at MJC by the student government has remained the same throughout the years, mainly encouraging students to march on Sacramento in March, in a symbolic act of protest which has done nothing to stop the attacks on education. Perhaps if students do attend demonstrations this year, they can take a cue from workers in Wisconsin and across the country and occupy. During recent MJC protests, student government leaders have also attempted to direct and control the actions of students. Here, as in Wisconsin, will workers fall into line by those that claim to represent them? We already know what the protest managers and union leaders will do, let's not be surprised when they do it. It's up to us to get organized and fight for our interests, not wait for them to direct us. At this point, both the unions and the two political parities are united in demanding that the working class fit the bill for the crisis. We have to flip the script, not only in our struggles, but also in order to create an entirely new world in place of this one.