The graduate worker wildcat strike at the University of California Santa Cruz has spread across the University of California system. Last Thursday, UC Santa Barbara graduate workers began a full teaching strike, while those at UC Davis committed to a grading strike, both echoing UCSC strikers’ demands for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). On Friday, the UCSC administration fired 54 of the striking graduate workers.
As with my last column, I urge anyone who cares about workers rights, social justice in academia and the future of higher education in general to follow and support the strike. This week, I hope to offer context around the reasoning behind radical graduate labor actions by highlighting the less visible labor graduate students perform. I would also like to push back on the far-too-common argument that graduate worker strikes — and not the neoliberal, classist academic system — hurt undergraduates.
Whether in the sciences, humanities or social sciences, graduate students put in long hours outside of the familiar labors of teaching, grading and lab work. However, much of this labor isn’t readily recognized or acknowledged by University administrators, faculty or often even ourselves.
By defining us as part-workers and part-students, many of our contributions to the University are purposely ignored or reframed as self-indulgent, educational or voluntary in order to justify our poverty-level stipends.
But when graduate students discuss our difficulties and successes as teaching assistants or course instructors with one another, we are working. This kind of commiserating, idea-sharing and strategizing is crucial work for class preparation — and necessary, considering we often aren’t formally (or informally) provided teaching training or resources from our employers.