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In Solidarity With the California Worker/Student Movement

category north america / mexico | community struggles | opinion / analysis author Saturday November 28, 2009 12:34author by Workers Solidarity Alliance - WSA Report this post to the editors

Statement of the Workers Solidarity Alliance

Defend and Expand the Campus Occupations!

The campuses of California have been occupied. Last week, the California Board of Regents decided to impose a 32% tuition increase across the University of California system. Forced to quit school or go even deeper into debt, workers and students across the state have responded by launching widespread protests against the new austerity measures in the best tradition of working class resistance - with pickets, barricades, and occupations. The Workers Solidarity Alliance extends its full support and encouragement to the students and workers across the state of California in their struggle against astronomical tuition increases and other measures intended to make workers pay for a crisis deliberately manufactured by the state’s governing elite.

We take inspiration from your fight and the militancy of your struggle and wish to offer any support and solidarity we are able. We are not directly present in your struggle, and as such, we do not have the understanding of what is happening that you do. However, as an organization of working class militants engaged in struggles across North America over the last 25 years, we would like to humbly offer not only support, but also analysis based on our own experiences as you move forward in your fight. We welcome communication from you about ways we can support you, about lessons you suggest we take away from your struggle, and above all about how to extend this struggle further.

As news reaches us, we find it encouraging to hear that the struggle so far has been waged in a largely libertarian and confrontational manner - through general assemblies and direct actions, such as occupying buildings or physically preventing the departure of the UC Regents from their meetings. We believe that it is vital to avoid efforts by politicians and other opportunists to mislead the students and workers into narrow reformism or accommodation into existing channels for dissent that demobilize social movements, such as lobbying, waiting for the next election cycle, or waiting for a bailout from the federal government. Your time is now.

While we applaud the bravery of those who risk life and limb confronting the forces of the capitalist state on the picket lines and behind barricaded doors, we also feel we must soberly acknowledge that this is a defensive struggle. Unless the struggle rapidly grows, it will succumb to repression and dissipate in the face of meager concessions.

It is therefore necessary to expand the struggle, building on the already impressive participation in the struggle by working class students. We lack specific first-hand information, but it seems that the racial and ethnic composition of the movement fairly closely parallels the composition of California’s working class. Workers of color have once again taken the lead in advancing the class struggle in the United States. It is unclear to us if white workers and students are participating in the struggle in proportional numbers, but we hope that white activists play a role in building class unity across racial lines- encouraging participation by working class whites and actively combating any attempt by the bosses to offer a white supremacist sweetheart deal to white workers or students in order to split the movement. The involvement of large, diverse working class base of previously “unpoliticized” students and workers is the only hope for success in the struggle, and also the only real defense against the repression of the movement.

One urgent task facing the movement is the extension of the struggle to the California State University campuses. If resistance to the longstanding efforts by California’s owning classes to shrink and privatize both university systems is to be successful, the students and workers of all the state’s educational systems must stand united.

Beyond broadening participation in the struggle amongst students, it is necessary to expand the struggle to other sectors of the class that are impacted by the crisis. We are heartened by the level of collaboration between students and workers in the current struggle. We understand that this has been possible because of years, if not decades, of committed organizing between these two groups. This sort of solidarity is critical if we are to avoid co-optatation as an “interest group” grasping for benefits from the bosses. Capital can shift resources around to buy off and pacify one particular group. It cannot deal with one big union of all the workers, all in support of each others’ demands. The long, slow work of mass organizing must continue even in the period between mass mobilizations to build this solidarity and prepare for the next upsurge.

In discussions among ourselves based on your struggles and our own experiences, we brainstormed a few possible ways to expand the struggle to other sectors of the class. Some of the ideas we discussed are for working students to mobilize their coworkers around workplace demands, for masses of students to shut down businesses in areas around the universities that depend on students as customers, or for workers to stage job actions in workplaces that employ large numbers of students. You could also seek out workers currently on strike in other sectors of the economy, or ask your parents to participate by coming to campus or organizing their coworkers in support of your demands. Another option would be to bring non-student coworkers to assemblies on occupied campuses, as was common in the 1968 uprising in France. You might also look for inspiration to the 2004 Quebec student strike, in which student unions shut down university campuses and then went on the offensive by creating “economic perturbances”- student occupations of critical sections of the highway system, the port, and the stock exchange. The Quebec students won their demands with broad support from unions and workers across Canada.

If steps are taken to deepen and expand the struggle, the student-worker movement will be able to extract more favorable concessions from the California capitalist class, hopefully leading to the removal of some of the burdens they seek to foist on UC students and workers. However, we believe that it is only through a national, if not international, unification of campus struggles that the worker and student movement will be able to move from a defensive position against Neo-liberal cutbacks to more radical changes in the education system such as democratic self-management of the universities by the staff, faculty, and students.

We ask respectfully if the California students in action consider it a useful step to form a national student union to coordinate solidarity not just between campuses and across states, but with students and workers around the world. We see this as a potentially useful tool for advancing your struggle, the struggle of working class students, and of our class generally. We welcome response on this suggestion from the students in action now, and would be happy to collaborate to the best of our ability on such a project.

The protests and occupations of the students and workers in the UC system have captured the attention of the nation. Such actions speak louder than our words ever could. We hope that your example will find its echo on campuses and workplaces around the world as university managements and governments seek to further immiserate workers and students in the wake of the economic crisis. Furthermore, we hope that your fight in turn inspires workers in other sectors across the world to organize and fight their own bosses, building the unity and strength of the workers movement in preparation for the long years of struggle ahead, and setting the stage for the eventual global workers revolution.

The Workers Solidarity Alliance

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