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The Day the University Ground to a Halt - April 14, 2005
On April 14, 2005 thousands of students and workers at UC Santa Cruz shut down the campus in a coordinated statewide strike by low-paid service workers in AFSCME 3299. The strike, organized by AFSCME, clerical workers in the Coalition of University Employees (CUE), T.A.s in the United Auto Workers (UAW), students in the Student and Worker Coalition for Justice (SWCJ) and others, was one of the biggest actions UCSC has seen in recent years and led to a new, better contract for AFSCME workers within two weeks.
CUE, which walked out on April 14 in solidarity with AFSCME, later held their own 2-day strike, but it was after students had left for the summer and they missed out on much of the momentum. They later got a new contract, although they bargained away their right to solidarity strikes, one of the key elements that made April 14 a success. UPTE, made up of researchers, also went on strike in May of 2005, yet hadn't built a working relationship with student activists like AFSCME and CUE had, so it was not particularly successful.
April 14 was part of what The Project newspaper called "the spring insurrection" of 2005, which roughly began when students kicked military recruiters off campus on April 5 and included the night of April 18 when administrators bussed in dozens of Berkeley riot cops in a pre-planned assault on students organizing Tent University. Administrators openly acknowledge that the police response to Tent U. was an effort to reassert the control they had lost in the past weeks and send a message to the university that they wouldn't tolerate any more militant actions.
April 14 should be remembered as the day the university ground to a halt. It shows the power that students and workers have if they have concrete demands, solid strategies and a long-term vision for a united university run from the bottom up. April 14 was the result of years of organizing by the unions (particularly AFSCME), as well as students and a few profs engaged in labor solidarity. It shouldn't be seen as some spontaneous event, but as the product of the anger, empowerment, and hope that many in the community felt.
These are my previously unpublished photos and thoughts as a student organizer.
SC-IMC's original feature on the April 14, 2005 strike:
My April 5, 2005 remembrance posts
SC-IMC's original feature on Tent U:
There have been short films made on both April 14 and Tent University. The April 14 film was made by SWCJ members Kyle Gleason and David Zlutnick, "Solidarity Films." It's not available online. The Tent U film, "To Protect and Serve," received tens of thousands of views nationally:
I write this post because I firmly believe that all of us at UC Santa Cruz should remember April 14 each year. Those in power have done and will do whatever they can to try and make us forget the days when we took our lives into our own hands. We owe it to ourselves to remember.
While workers and students were on strike all day, the crowd assembled at noon for a rally at the base of campus. This is what generated the people power to have sit-ins at both entrances to campus. Here, Maria, a member of AFSCME, energizes the crowd. Julian, a long-time AFSCME worker and organizer stands by her side.
Professor Paul Ortiz speaking. The woman in blue in the front of the crowd is a reporter from Univision.
Towards the end of the rally, the crowd moved from the grassy field at the base of campus to block the front entrance. This entrance was blocked til at least 6:30pm.
One of the pivotal elements of the strike was the support of the faculty (many of which had been organized through T.A. allies). Lots of professors cancelled classes, moved them off campus, or held them on the picket line. Others gave students assignments to observe the strike or the media coverage surrounding it as well.
Here you see three classes being held in circles, while a crowd blocks the front entrance.
After hundreds of students had blocked off the main entrance at the base of campus, the police re-routed traffic up to the West Entrance through neighborhood streets, out of sight of the protest. The campus, which activists had labeled as a 'strike zone,' was mostly shut down from the workers' strike and student/faculty solidarity, but a large chunk of the crowd decided to march up to the west entrance to block it off as well, physically shutting down the entire campus for an extended period of time.
The truck had just honked its horn in support.
There was a significant effort to get off-campus labor to support the strike. Earlier in the day, students and workers met with construction workers at Cowell, successfully urging them to refuse to work at UCSC that day.
The city bus drivers, members of the United Transportation Union (UTU) Local 23, as is their practice, refused to drive onto campus in solidarity with the striking unions. Normally during a strike, UCSC would have extra buses pick students up at the base of campus where Metro drivers would drop them off. Except, campus bus drivers (excluding student workers who are not allowed to unionize) are members of AFSCME as well, so the only shuttles were driven by a few scabs. With AFSCME striking, Metro solidarity, and then activists blocking off both entrances to campus preventing cars from coming in, transportation was virtually impossible. You add that to large numbers of cancelled or moved classes and striking clerical workers, and you've got a dead campus.
Remembering Metro driver solidarity, students played a vital role the next fall when UTU went on strike for 38 days. The students immediately began solidarity work by organizing confrontations with Transit board members, a big march from campus to the Metro Center downtown, and many sizeable rallies. Their first success was immediately framing the debate to suggest that the best way to end the strike and receive the services so many students (and workers, many of which live in Watsonville) rely on was for the City to meet the demands of the bus drivers. Students' militant solidarity and drivers' epic strike ultimately succeeded in winning UTU a new contract and solidifying an important connection between campus labor and city labor.
A feature on the largest of the UTU strike solidarity actions:
A handful of AFSCME workers cheer on supporters marching up High Street to block off the West Entrance. Many workers had to be careful due to their vulnerable positions as immigrants and employees at risk of being fired.
One worker was picked out from a crowd and cited by police at some point during the day for crossing the street against the advice of traffic signals. It took more than a year and additional pressure on the Chancellor to finally get her case resolved.
Once at the West Entrance, the crowd held an impromptu teach-in where workers talked about their experiences, students talked about support, and much more. The whole day's event was really empowering because so much of the UCSC community had come out. People came with all their friends, taking group pictures, while others wrote the words 'Strike!' on their bodies in paint. It was big community event.
All these cars were backed up waiting to get through the West Entrance. A group of students checked each car to see what they wanted to come on campus for. People who had emergencies or lived on campus were allowed through, while others (i'm not sure of the criteria) were not.
While some drivers were pissed off, others were very supportive of the strike.
This poster hung at the West Entrance, reminding everyone what the strike was about - both supporters and non-supporters.
Notice the metal fence that some students are carrying. It was set up by police near where a small road intersected with High St.. Students took it with them on their way up to the top of the hill where they used the fences to reinforce the sit-in at the West Entrance.
After holding the West Entrance for a while, the crowd marched back down to the base of campus to rendevouz with the rest of the people who had been blocking off the other entrance to campus. There were some rumors that police may have been preparing to go after the folks at the base, which influenced the West Entrance crowd to march back down.
Safety in numbers ensured that the entire day's actions was completely peaceful and no arrests occured. Much like April 5, police were not prepared for the militant action of the students and there were so many of us (up to 1000 at any point, more throughout the course of the day, and even more if you consider all the people that boycotted classes and/or work), that it would have been difficult for them to forecebly clear the roads.
Towards dinner-time, after students and workers had been at the picket-lines since early-morning and after many hours of blocking either one or both entrances, Chancellor Denice Denton went to the base of campus to talk with protest organizers. Since labor contracts are negotiated at a system-wide level, Denton didn't have direct control over employee wages, but getting her to lobby her higher-ups was an important part of the campaign.
More than a year later, Denton tragically took her own life after only being Chancellor for a short time. I wrote an article that tried to contextualize the debate at the time:
A Complex Tragedy: Denice Denton and UC Santa Cruz
Every protest has its drama that the corporate press loves. Here's some of April 14's. A driver, anxious to get to campus and not interested in supporting the strike, tried to drive through the blockade at the base of campus. He was unsuccessful. A mere 5 minutes out of more than 12 hours of protest.
Many workers brought their families with them to the picket lines of the strike. The day's organizers also distributed pleanty of food and water to everyone.
This sign was posted at the base of campus all day.
These flyers were all over the school, reminding students to get down to the base of campus. Strikers had organized a car picking people up every hour and bringing them down to the protest.
Univision has been one of the few media outlets that have continued to cover AFSCME's struggle. It's significant because their reporters can speak directly with the workers in Spanish, rather than having to go through translators or speak with bi-lingual organizers.
The corporate press missed out on much of the more dramatic actions of the day, including the sit-in of the West Entrance and the peak-crowd blockade of the base. More importantly, however, thousands of students had the day inscribed in their mind, reminding them of the power they have if they choose to use it. Many of us student organizers were extremely empowered and radicalized by the actions those springs, especially April 14. The strike was the largest, most militant and most peaceful action of that spring. It continues to be an inspiration for all of us that were there and all those who benefit from our successes.