The Struggle for Education Rights: University of California Walkouts Show the Way

By Josh Sykes for the Student Commission of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

Thousands of union workers, faculty, undergrads and graduate students across the University of California system stood up and said “no more!” to the severe budget cuts, layoffs, furloughs and tuition hikes. On Sept. 24, they stood up and walked out. The UC faculty initiated the walkout. The United Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union called a one-day unfair labor practices strike. All ten of the UC campuses saw protests. UCLA saw 1000 students walkout and sit-in at the administration offices, demanding, and winning, a meeting with the chancellor to discuss grievances. At UC-Berkeley over 5000 took the streets, shutting down busy intersections. Students at UC-Santa Cruz occupied a campus building to protest the cuts.

As the U.S. government stumbles over itself to bail out the billionaires who caused the economic crisis, the broad masses of the people are left out. Already we have seen working and poor people lead struggles that have exposed some of the sharpest contradictions of the crisis. From the movement to save the home of Rosemary Williams in Minneapolis, to the Republic Windows and Doors factory occupation and the SK Tools strike for healthcare in Chicago, people are fighting back. Rightfully, the students, workers and faculty in California are joining this call for a people’s bailout in demanding that state budgets not be balanced on the backs of their jobs or their right to an education.

The students and workers who walked out, sat in and fought back throughout the UC system have a done a great thing. They are showing the way forward, especially for the student movement. And the way forward is struggle.

The student movement made its biggest gains in the period during and following the Civil Rights Movement, first in smashing school segregation and then advancing further as oppressed nationality students such as the Third World Liberation Front fought huge struggles to win university programs like ethnic studies to teach the history of racism and national oppression in the United States. Likewise, women’s studies, queer studies and similar programs were fought for and built by students.

Now these programs are faced, in many places, with the chopping block. Many scholarships that are supposed to help working people attend college are being completely eliminated. These programs must be defended. Students, workers and oppressed people on campuses across the country must raise the slogan “chop from the top.” Every cut that the ruling class and their flunkies succeed in pushing forward further elevates the universities as something unattainable to working people and slams the door on oppressed nationalities.

The chants of the students at the rallies in California were advanced and correct: “No cuts, no fees, education should be free!” Others are rightfully calling for “Money for education, not war and occupation,” saying clearly that the trillions of dollars being sunk into the U.S.’s wars and interventions could be better spent on people’s needs here at home. Now the student movement needs to advance, moving beyond a struggle for ‘accessible’ education, and into a struggle for the right to an education, instead of the current system that, despite the gains that have been made, still privileges the rich.

The student movement needs to take the lead, building on the momentum of the UC protests, and spread the struggle for the right to an education throughout the country like a prairie fire. Ultimately, we need socialism. We need to tear down the ‘ivory tower’ and make the public universities serve the people.

Josh Sykes is a member of the National Executive Committee and co-chair of the Student Commission of Freedom Road Socialist Organization