On Wednesday, a three-day strike by 24,000 service workers of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in the University of California (UC) system came to a close. Drawing mass support by other sections of the workers and students at UC schools, the health and service workers now face the systematic efforts of the union to isolate their struggles and push a sell-out contract in close coordination with the university administration.
The strike attracted an additional 29,000 UC nurses and administrative workers from the California Nurses Association (CNA) and University Professional (UPTE) union, respectively, who overwhelmingly voted to carry out a sympathy strike alongside AFSCME workers on Tuesday and Wednesday. A significant number of students and educational faculty offered additional support by posting on social media, canceling class and joining the picket line.
In a potentially deadly effort to intimidate strikers on Monday at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) a still unnamed driver, who had initially got out of his car and issued angry threats against striking workers, drove through the picket line and dragged one food service worker across an intersection on the hood of his car. Three other strikers were treated for minor injuries.
Despite this, and even as the state-wide strike was being wound down by the unions, thousands of workers staffed picket lines across the 10 campuses and five hospitals of the UC system on Wednesday.
The demands of the strike—a 6 percent yearly wage increase, a freeze to health insurance premiums, and an end to contracting out positions to lower-paid part-time and temporary staff—expose the circumstances that confront UC workers and workers around the United States and the world, including the attack on working conditions and stagnant wages combined with rising living expenses and health care costs.
lie, a custodian with more than 30 years’ experience, told the WSWS, “They’re trying to cut so many things, that’s why we are here.” Speaking to the outrageous cost of rent, fuel, and food in California compared to the national average, he said, “The cost of living is going too high… When you went to the shopping mall, you used to have at least $20 to spend, now you have nothing for your wife and kids.”
Although the hospital and university administrators “have the capability to hire private security, outsource private staff, and they treat the nurses like garbage,” Elie pointed out, “We run the UC. Without us the managers would have to do it themselves. We used to have eight security, now we just have four. How are they supposed to do their jobs?”
When asked about extending the strike and his thoughts on the union, Elie said, “I have no problem with that but the money the union is giving us is not enough for my family. We get $75 a day, that’s $25 less than a normal day.”
Elie is one of the many rank-and-file workers who expressed a desire to continue the strike beyond the limited time frame enforced by the union. Instead of expanding the strike and linking up the struggle of nurses, graduate employees and faculty with a militant struggle to win all their shared demands, the unions are actively working to isolate the strike from other sections of the working class, promote the dead-end politics of the Democratic Party, and eventually ink a sellout deal behind closed doors with the university elite.
After offering employees a 3 percent yearly wage increase and a lump-sum payment of $750, which they rejected in a 97 percent vote for the three-day strike, the UC administration has made clear their intransigence in the face of worker’s demands.
UC spokesperson Claire Doan proclaimed, “All [striking workers] have done is hurt care for our patients and our students,” adding that their wages and health care coverage are already better than the “market average.” On top of causing surgeries and treatments to get rescheduled, the three-day strike has, according to the university representative, “done nothing… to change our position on their unreasonable demands for their excessive raises and benefits.”
Though the union leadership will verbally oppose these insulting statements, their actions will prove their allegiance to protecting the profits of the university over the basic demands of workers. As the WSWS has warned, “UC workers should not forget that their current contract, which has done nothing to keep pace with the rising cost of living and increases to out-of-pocket pension costs, was proclaimed a victory by AFSCME in 2014.”
Now that the strike has been ended, the union will attempt to push a sell-out contract onto the service and health workers that allows the UC to rid itself of its retirement obligations and push a 401k-style pension on new hires. Reflecting the growing militancy of the working class in opposition to the political establishment and union leadership across the US, UC workers will find themselves in direct conflict with the unions, UC administrators and the Democratic Party-dominated state government as they continue the fight for decent jobs, health care and living conditions.
We urge all UC workers to form rank-and-file committees, independent of the unions, to unite their fight for wages and benefits with the struggles of the entire working class against inequality and war. Facing the same conditions as teachers, autoworkers, and the entire working class, the health, service and administrative workers at the University of California must broaden their struggle into a broad political counter-offensive against the repressive and anti-democratic policies of the Democrats, Republicans and the capitalist system at large.