During the month of November, I began to hear rumblings of an academic strike by our graduate student workers. By the second week of the month, the rumors were confirmed: a strike was impending, and many of our TAs would soon become inaccessible.
Our TAs, researchers, and other academic workers in the UAW have collectively decided to withhold their labor in order to take a stand against the UC’s unfair labor practices and compel those in charge to adopt fair labor practices. They have directed the public’s attention toward the fact that the contracts, wages, and present salary offered to graduate workers have left many struggling to make ends meet, with the cost of living and rent continuing to increase while their incomes remain stagnant. Many academic workers have been forced to work multiple jobs while balancing teaching, research, their personal lives, and their financial burdens.
Admittedly, I, like many other undergraduate students, experienced feelings of sympathy for our academic workers but also a sense of detachment from the issue. Because it wasn’t something that directly affects us, it was easier to ignore. I also think many of us either assumed a settlement would be reached before a strike could materialize, or we anticipated a short-lived strike and a couple of days off from class. Thus, for many undergraduate students, this was a matter to approach with impassivity or ignorance — to wait for it to blow over until things would eventually return to normal.
However, over the course of this past week, UC San Diego has transformed from a silent dead zone to a lively hotbed. Everywhere you turn, there are indicators of the academic workers’ strike permeating our campus; it’s nearly impossible to miss the various displays of protest. Whether it’s the countless “STRIKE” signs strung up on buildings, the large groups of picketers chanting in front of lecture halls, or even the cancellation of weekly sections, the reality of this strike is something that we as Tritons can neither avoid or ignore.
This strike has brought to light the integral role that our academic workers play in UC institutions. They are fundamental for grading, teaching, research, and more. Their contributions are irreplaceable and incalculable, illustrating the absurdity of how little they are compensated for their work. I think I speak for the majority of undergraduates when I say that we miss our TAs, that we’ve discovered a newfound appreciation for them, and that many of us want to support them.
But, I also acknowledge that we, as undergraduates, find ourselves in a difficult position. While we feel supportive and angry, we are still putting thousands of dollars toward our education. Many of us are still being held responsible for deadlines, lecture attendance, and exams. Some of us have to cross the picket line and attend classes. Some of us have no choice but to continue.
Fortunately, I have professors who understand and are supportive of me joining the picket, even if it means missing class. However, I also recognize that this is not a luxury that every student has been afforded.
Therefore, the plea I make to my fellow undergraduates is one that does not set the expectation that participation must be done in a specific way. What I ask is that we take this strike by our academic workers as an opportunity for enlightenment. I don’t want to tell you what stance to take on this or that you should be out picketing and supporting. What I want is for you to take some time to understand what these pickets are about, to become informed on the gravity of our academic workers’ plight, to recognize the unavoidable impact that this movement has on us as fellow UC students, and to realize that indifference is complacency.
For those in disagreement with the methods of our workers’ direct action or feeling angry by the inconvenience of this strike, remember to take the time to become informed. Do not take a stance of anger toward the distractions without also familiarizing yourself with the reason for that very disruption. Proceed with compassion, open-mindedness, and an understanding that these demonstrations and the impact they have on us are fueled by the rage of an exploited population. A system cannot improve without reforming the structures it rests upon.
Please heed my advice and learn more about what is happening behind the scenes of our classes and our research. Recognize the individuals that our school so desperately relies on. Decide how you wish to proceed in these coming weeks; determine where you stand and what you can do to support the strike.
Image by Kathleen Shiroma of the UCSD Guardian.