California fights back

In our previous post on the situation in California, we covered the twofold economic crisis the working class of that state has faced over the past two years. In this post, we will cover some of the news from the frontline of the people’s resistance against the incompetent employers and short-cited politicians who caused this mess to begin with.

1. Anti-tuition hike movement: the backdrop

In 2008, California’s university workers and students were facing budget crises from both the state and the University of California school system. But it would be a mistake to pin the harsh tuition hikes solely on budget problems. The budget crisis has only sped up a nation-wide process of transferring University costs from government to students.

Nationally, between 2002 and 2006 alone, the share of public colleges’ budgets students have had to pay rose from one-third to one half

An annual report by The College Board confirms that last year private school costs rose by 4.4%, where public school costs rose a whopping 6% or more. Overall, tuition and fees for college have risen by over 20% since 2004.

In California, the trend is moving much faster. Not only was the state government cutting millions of dollars to its public schools, but the University of California Board of Regents hiked tuitions to all of the colleges under its control, including its community colleges and state universities.

In all, 3.1 million students and hundreds of thousands of employees will be impacted by the budget cuts.

According to UC President Mark Yudof, it is necessary to hike students’ tuition, in order to “preserve the quality and ensure the access that California expects from the world’s premier public research university system.”

Of course, the budget cuts would not include his salary – almost double that of President Obama’s.

When asked whether he deserved double the U.S. presidents salary, nearly $1 million annually, Yudof responded “will you throw in Air Force One and the White House?”

“This,” remarked Senator Leeland Yee of California, “is the type of arrogance and cavalier attitude that plagues the university.”

2. Workers and students unite to resist tuition hikes:

One of the more interesting aspects of the anti-tuition hike movement in California has been its steadfast support of not only students, but campus workers as well. 

Since the beginning of the protests, students have rallied not only to stop the tuition hikes, but also to oppose layoffs, speed-ups and pay cuts for campus employees. 

It was partly on their behalf, then, that students began organizing disruptions of the California School System’s administration in September of 2009. Since then, protests and confrontations between the authorities and students have continued, and in some circumstances have intensified. In all, over 200 students have been arrested. You can find more detailed information on the protests here.

Student protest historian Angus Johnston reminds us that UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau told the New Yorker in December that students could “occupy any [campus] space they like, that’s fine. Unless they damage a building, in which case they’re breaking the law, and I’d send in the police.”

Despite this promise, Birgenau has ordered in the police on three occasions to arrest students on charges the courts would later throw out. It’s a common tactic. Although the police know that the charges are fake, and that judges will throw them out, they arrest protestors anyways. In this way, they can effectively end entire protests, peaceful or not, whenever they are ordered to.

The Berkely Student Advocates Office and the local branch of the ACLU confirm that the motivation for the arrest of many students was to prevent them exorcising their right to free assembly and speech.

Enraged by both the budget cuts and the police repression on California Campuses, students and supporters attacked the home of Birgenau chanting “no justice, no peace!” The attack, in which torches were thrown and windows broken, began after 66 students were arrested in UC’s Wheeler Hall on false charges. 

“The attack on Chancellor Birgeneau’s residence late last night was appalling,” millionaire UC President Mark Yudof said of the incident. “The behavior as described went far beyond the boundaries of public dissent… such lawlessness cannot be tolerated.”

Neither, apparently, can peaceful protests, like the one at Wheeler Hall earlier that same day.

You can follow more news about the situation on California’s campuses here and here.

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