George Ciccariello-Maher, Occupy Everything!

Advance the Struggle, Occupations Spread Across California

Bob Meister, They Pledged Your Tuition

8 thoughts on “New Student Occupations in California: Which Way Forward?

  1. just a few short notes

    I didn’t quite understand all the details of the Meister piece, but it seems very basically that tuition isn’t being raised to pay for less state funding but to ensure quality of UC bonds at the students expense.

    I don’t know if, like here at UT-Austin, tuition there has been privatized to the extent where the regents can arbitrarily raise it, but it seems whether they can do this or not, they can simply increase or create fees and that their first priority is in paying the bondholders. In essence it is already privatized if not formally.

    Geo’s piece is important for the point it raises about budget cuts. The budget cuts are a myth and different universities are using the economic crisis as a pretext to increase tuition and fees and to profit. The administrators tried to pass the buck and say, “Blame the State.” While the state is indeed allocating significantly less scrilla to universities, the admin does have control over what money it does have–and they have chosen to insulate their asses well and, in fact, are giving themselves raises (same at UT). (Reminds me of “The Office” episode last year where the employees are battling it out over where the unspent money from the budget goes; towards a new copier or new chairs. But Michael, the office manager, instead sends it back to corporate when he learns that he’ll get 15% of it as a bonus.) The students didn’t fall for the admin’s deflections to protest at the Capitol.

    If we have learned anything from protests at the Regents meeting at the University of Washington this year it is that when the buck-passers are called upon to join with the students and fight against the cuts, they are unwilling. They don’t stand for shit.

    Rather, this is a struggle around privatization. The slogan of the incipient student movement shouldn’t be “NO BUDGET CUTS” but “NO PRIVATIZATION” and “STUDENT/WORKER POWER,” the latter which challenges even the old way and poses democratic control from below.

    This article does well to throw the spotlight on the liberal student lackeys who moderate against militant action because those motherfuckers know they will be an administrator themselves one day. AtS opens the aperture on this and implicates not just liberal junior politician careerists but other sections of the revolutionary Left who tail them because they can’t think outside their proceeduralism and bureaucracy.

    Lastly, the crackers at National Review are trying to make the students out to be whining, spoiled babies who are unwilling to tighten their belts like other working people during tough economic times. I wonder if they would have said this if the protestors were majority white? Furthermore, this disingenuously leaves out the involvement of workers and faculty on their own terms as well as the demands of student occupiers at UCB’s Wheeler Hall to reinstate 38 custodians that were fired.

    That’s all I got.

  2. Yeah one of my favorite chants during the fight against cuts here in Washington last year was “the budget cuts are no excuse for this kind of cold abuse.”

    I agree the long term trajectory of the movement needs to be “NO PRIVATIZATION” and “STUDENT WORKER POWER”, not just “NO BUDGET CUTS.” I think this is what Advance the Struggle is trying to get at.

    What about here at University of Washington though, where there is no student movement yet and primarily workers are moving (and they’re moving slowly cuz they don’t have much student support and the unions are trying to stop actions from happening)? Here some workers have a sense that the enemy is privatization/ union busting, but most students don’t necessarily yet – those that are involved I think see it more in terms of dealing with the specific effects of budget cuts.

    As the state threatens more cuts this spring we’re trying to lay the groundwork for a possible student-worker united front. We want to organize a broad based coalition to fight the cuts as well as a tighter tendency within this united front that can build toward direct actions, along the lines of what Advance the Struggle laid out in their Opening Shots piece. Should we suggest that the name of the broader united front coalition be “Anti-Budget Cuts coalition” or something like that or should it be “Student Worker Power” or “Coalition Against Privatization” or something like that.

    What do folks think? Obviously, this decision isn’t just up to us but it’s helpful to get some feedback from ya’ll (including readers down in Cali who have been through this step already) to decide what to suggest in meetings.

  3. I just want to second Mamos to say that workers do have a strong sense of their worsening conditions being a product of privatization and union busting–not just budget cuts. If we eventually see this struggle at UW to linking with struggles of working and unemployed folks outside the U, who are also facing increased poverty, oppression, and desperation due to the cutting of social services programs (see discussion started by Mamos’ post, can we think of a name or a slogan/chant that reflects that as well? “Seattle for a Public University”? I like “student and worker power” too. I guess a question that has come up as well is how have other university struggles gained community (particularly communities of color) support? Or what have been difficulties? Some people have talked about including community college, high school students, high school teachers, and unemployed folks potentially in this coalition…does this strengthen or weaken calls against privatization of the U?

  4. Folks,

    I’ve seen both the SF State and Berkeley occupations and organizing efforts and they show some tactical similarities per occupation but dominant politics and organizational efforts informing them are different. Both are built on the histories of student struggles past, from the 1960s onwards. But the current class composition and other factors are animating some differences at two of the most active campuses fighting the budget cuts in Cali.


    Since the mid-October “soft occupation” of the Anthro Library, it has been the “occupation tendency” expressed through the Occupay CA site: with students from a few schools besides Berkeley that have out organized other left formations on campus. Interesting for a formation made up partly of anarchists that at time reject organization. These forces have played positive roles in the growing struggle, especially animating the Nov. 20th occupation of Wheeler Hall that the attached video documents. This occupation was organic, coming out of a two day strike and against the UC regents approving a 32% fee hike on the backs of students. This occupation help bring people on the outside from many of the left anti-budget cut tendencies as well as liberals and students who had not been politically active at all until that day. The battle with the cops and administration and release of occupiers with minimal charges has been seen as a victory. This emboldened the occupation tendency to continue pushing administration, with the soft occupation of Wheeler Hall for Live Week during the first week of December as a final statement for the semester that this is our university, open for students to study and the community to come learn, and to support worker struggles. As many of you know, this Open University was smashed by cops early Friday morning even though the University gave “permission” for the Open University to go through Friday night. This provocation by the university (it’s coming out that admin. planned all along to arrest the students) helped lead to a Friday night march where some used lit torches to find their way in the dark and rain to the Chancellor’s house on campus. A few plant holders and a window were broken, but UCPD rounded up some folks, charging them with several felonies, and swaying the Govenator to label the protesters, and by association anyone resisting the budget cuts, terrorists. Clearly it seems these charges and actions by some protesters are being overblown, although carrying lit torches during a rally probably isn’t the best idea. So needless to say this “attack” on the Chancellor’s house with him and his wife supposedly inside is making liberals students and faculty scramble to condemn “violence” of the protesters, but to many’s credit now that the violence of property damage is not the same violence of people being laid off, pay cut, unable to afford school, classes, basic services. But however the liberals feel in a moral quandary.

    So with all of this activity of occupation, it’s clear there are many political and organizational problems associated with the uptick in action, especially in the Live Week actions. While creating a wonderful space for studying, teach-ins, and liberated culture for students, workers, and community members to enjoy, it was largely on its own and not widely supported by the campus as a whole. Organizers, setting it up somewhat last minute, engaged in the liberated space tactic hoping the campus would come to support it, which did occur to a point. The problem is most ignored it. Another was a lack of strong orientation to workers on campus. Building occupations can and are supported by a segment of workers, but most can’t directly occupy building at current least they be fired. Hopefully we’ll come to that point, but we’re not there. So what I’m getting at is the occupation crews largely have not been willing to engage in the long and patient work of class struggle and having a worker orientation. Although the Nov 20th occupation demanded laid off AFSCME custodians be rehired, more worker demands that had been articulated through previous general assemblies, through groups like Student Worker Action Team and its workers caucus, were not expressed. I’m voiced to some of the best folks in the occupation/direct action groups the need to ground this movement in the class. Although outwardly there is no disagreement to this, actions haven’t matched up. Inside of patient organizing needed time to time to build a more critical mass, somewhat adventuristic occupation is practiced.

    What’s clear at Berkeley is there is a pull being go-slow liberals and some leftists who have favored the proceduralism of General Assemblies over militant action vs. the occupation crews practicing a confrontational stance at times devoid of deep political analysis and grounding with workers and students. A third-way is needed bringing together the best aspects of student/worker solidarity, willing to use all tactics they see fit, from mass meetings of the general assembly to strikes and occupations. What we need are demands and analysis grounded in class struggle, and connecting our struggles at Berkeley organically to those in California, U.S., and world be they the economic collapse or U.S. imperialism and how these problems are connected and related to the cuts affecting us on campus and in the community. Some groups and individuals have this analysis, but a strong force able to articulate this and build a fighting organizing is still to be fully cohered at present.

    SF State situation in my next post.

  5. SF State occupation vs. Berkeley

    So to continue my post. Events at the 12/9/09 Business Building occupation showed the differences in class composition, level of open calls for class struggle and worker militancy sloganeering, and organizational forms as opposed to Berkeley. For one, the occupied Business Building was renamed Oscar Grant Memorial Hall:
    As someone outside supporting the occupation I saw many class struggle slogans, high levels of discussions among some students outside defending each building entrance, and in the general assemblies at each door that night.

    Given all of this, the occupation was problematic in that it had little student support in terms of numbers outside (100-150 at most) and little to no workers. Staged at the end of the semester made it difficult for some to participate, and outreach to workers to get a critical mass in support was not clear, even though occupiers had some strong worker-centered demands. In talking with one person outside, they suggested the occupiers were influenced by the occupation tendency folks at Berkeley, and that the action may have been a bit ahead of where folks were at…not as organic as it could be. Now other left forces on campus had some issue with the occupiers, a good number part of Student Unity Power, in that SUP didn’t share their tactics with all. While perhaps problematic, not all decisions and tactics of independent organizations need to be shared or approved through mass meetings, as the Berkeley experience of many Trots feeling all actions need to go through General Assembly approval has shown. So the line of coalition building and support vs. militant independent action can be thin, for “going on your own” without deep support can prove problematic.

    While the occupation was smashed by cops early Thursday 12/10, it not clear yet if the SF State occupation was successful to bring in new layers like the Berkeley 11/20 Wheeler occupation did, or alienate more folks. What’s clear though is at SFSU the occupation was used to organize for the March 4th, 2010 state-wide public sector strike called at a mass organizing conference 10/24/09 at Berkeley. This needs to be seriously organized now and momentum is growing. Berkeley is in need of building this action. Even some of the hardcore Berkeley occupationists are feeling its time to step back from occupations to build March 4th. We’ll see how that works out.

    With all the political and tactical differences aside, there are some extraordinary things going on in California challenging business as usual, and taking on the budget cuts in education…taking the fight to our bosses and those officials in state power. It’s exciting, but has seen its ups and downs, with various ideas and organizations vying to see this struggle forward. We’re just at the beginning, and hope to see this replicated elsewhere in the U.S. and to be generalized for the foundation of American society, be it education, the economy and its so-called American Dream meritocracy are crumbling before us.

  6. Jamusa thanks for the useful update.

    I agree strongly with Advance the Struggle’s analysis that the student movement needs to avoid both tailing the general assemblies or the adventurism of occupying buildings without organizing masses of students and workers to hold and defend these occupations. It seems the Wheeler occupation a few weeks ago acheived this balance pretty well. GEO pointed out that it was the mass presence at all exits of the buildng that kept the cops from attacking the occupiers further. From what you’re describing these more recent occupations didn’t do as good a job at strikign that balance. What I can’t figure out though is if the San Fran State occupation was small simply cuz it was during finals or whether it was actually “adventuristic”… this is very hard to judge from the outside. I know that the SUP folks are comitted to long term mass organizing and don’t strike me as “adventuristic” in general.

    In any case, we’re watching this VERY closely up here in WA cuz our governor just announced a new round of cuts and we’re trying to catalyze the formation of a new student-worker united front coalition to build toward these kinds of mass actions. We are interacting now with a whole new layer of undergrads who are inspired by what ya’ll are doing in Cali. We want to avoid both tailism and adventurism as we move forward, keeping the coalition loose so that folks can feel free to take independent action and don’t need to get it “approved” by formal steering comittees dominated by professional leftists or student government liberals. It’s great we don’t have to reinvent the whell and we can learn from what ‘s going on down there – the detailed reports, analyses and discussions that ATS, SUP, BTR, and GatheringForces are doing are incredibly helpful.

    This might seem like a small point, but I wonder Jamusa if you are too quick to judge the torchlight march at Berkley …. wasn’t this a somewhat spontaneous reaction to police violence and repression at Wheeler? Isn’t it a good sign that students are responding this way to the cops, taking their anger directly to the guy who sicked the cops on them in the first place? Maybe property destruction was premature, maybe it wasn’t… that will have to be judged over the long term by seeing what kind of effects the actions has on either building up or breaking down the confdience of students and workers to keep mobilizing, escalating direct action, and building towards March 4th.

    I just saw a bunch of calls for a national day of action on the 4th. We are discussing possibly syncing up our campaign here to respond to that call. Does anyone out there have any expereince orgnaizing to intiate rank and file-led job actions on that day? What are the strenghts and weaknesses of submitting formal resolutions to union locals/ labor councils around it? Is the AFSCME international moving to the Left in response to what’s happenign in Cali? Is this opening up space for them to “approve” actions which the rank and file can take further than the burecrats would want? Or will the union bureacrats continue to hold back and sabotage our efforts to bring together student and worker moblizations against privatization?

    In any case, whether or not the progressive labor burecrats enter a united front struggle or not, we will need to keep mobilizing as rank and file workers to make sure that there is real content and real action to these “calls” and “days of action.” It can’t just be a formalistic call for a one day strike that few workers come out for…. it seems like we need to build toward serious picket lines and try our best to create political crises for the rulers on our campuses.

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