Speech Delivered at the Noon Rally of the November 20 Strike at UC Berkeley

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Hi Everyone, my name is Munira Lokhandwala and I am a GSI in the Film and Media studies department and the proud Unit Chair for the graduate student union here at Berkeley, UAW 2865.

Hi; I’m Amanda Armstrong and a grad student in the Rhetoric Department, and the Recording Secretary of our union.

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M: These are rare moments when workers and students from across the campus can join hands in solidarity to protest the indignity and the intimidation that we face in our workplaces. We’re here today because the UC won’t stop intimidating their workers for fighting for what’s right. Collective action is a beautiful and powerful tool not only because it allows us to be together, but it also sends the UCs a message: if they push one of us, we all push back! These are the moments when we can build power together and talk together about the possibility of reconfiguring the public university in the interests of those who work and study here.  That’s what these moments are about.

A: Supervisors tried to push health service workers around last spring and tried to intimidate them out of striking.  Our strike today is about challenging this intimidation and saying that workers have the right to act collectively to address issues in their workplace without fear of retaliation.  Student workers are standing in solidarity today with AFSCME workers.  But as we prepared for this strike, we also faced intimidation from administrators.  Vice Chancellor George Breslauer, who two years ago let the police strike with batons those who were linking arms where we are standing today, has been spreading misinformation, saying that graduate student workers don’t have the right to strike and that we need to report to our supervisors today.  He was trying to make us afraid to act together today.  Our union is filing charges against the University for this intimidation.  But more importantly, hundreds of members of our union made the decision to join together today and to link arms with AFSCME workers.  Our presence today demonstrates a refusal to be intimidated out of solidarity.

M: We know how difficult it is for instructors to cancel classes, when classes already feel so impacted and we struggle to do our work as educators in less than ideal conditions. But sometimes it is necessary that we leave the classroom in order to participate in the class struggle; to take the kinds of actions that can help ensure that classrooms aren’t being closed off for the future. Just because we’re not holding class today doesn’t mean that learning is not happening. Rather than see these moments as simply shutting down, we must imagine these rare moments as an opening up of possibilities to articulate our struggles as workers and students side by side. Today, thousands of GSIs and TAs across the state canceled their classes to preserve the future of classrooms and those who work and learn in them.

A: Student workers throughout the UCs are striking today in solidarity with AFSCME workers.  The basic idea of the solidarity strike is this: We all work in the same place.  We have the same boss.  We work in the same buildings. We see each other every day. Our fates our bound together.  So, when a group of workers on this campus sets up picket lines to protest intimidation or unsafe working conditions; it’s critical for other groups of workers and students to join those picket lines.    Historically, when strikes have spread from one group of workers to another, real, lasting social transformation has become possible.  In 1969, when students of color with the Third World Liberation Front struck on this campus to challenge institutional racism at the University, initially campus administrators refused to concede to their demands.  But when municipal workers in Oakland decided to go on strike in solidarity with Berkeley students, the Chancellor almost immediately made concessions.

M: More recently, groups of students and workers have struck and held lines together on this campus to say no to undergraduate tuition hikes.  Two years ago, the Regents were talking about raising tuition to more than 20,000 dollars a year; but strikes of students and workers throughout the UCs helped block those hikes.  When students and workers act together, when we join each others’ picket lines, and when we refuse to be intimidated out of solidarity; together we can change this University.

Whose university!?

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