November 20th was a perplexing day for some on the UC campuses. As AFSCME and UAW held a joint strike, many students and media people wanted to know why graduate students would go out on strike to support mostly manual workers. Of course, the reason for this support was that both unions were protesting against the sense that the UC administration does not respect collective action and collective bargaining. Moreover, what really scares and confuses many people in power is the sight of seeing both service and professional workers protesting together.
People in power must know that a coalition of organized professional and service workers could be one of the only groups strong enough to stop the neoliberal political economy, and when you throw recent immigrants and indebted students into the mix, a very threatening progressive coalition emerges. Although some may say that the protests and strike were really only about pensions and pay, it is clear that a more fundamental democratic yearning was evident in these actions. Not only do workers and students feel that they do not have a voice at their own institutions, but they also feel alienated by the silent forces of global capitalism and austerity politics.
AFSCME did a very smart thing by working with various student groups to form a diverse coalition of workers, students, and faculty, and while the peaceful demonstrations did not generate much police presence, recent trends suggest that once organized dissent becomes visible and disruptive, it will be countered in a forceful way. Let us hope that this is the beginning of a more forceful organization of the people who make this university work.