Graduate workers in California to strike over treatment of Gaza protesters

<span>UCLA faculty and staff members in Los Angeles on 9 May.</span><span>Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP</span>
UCLA faculty and staff members in Los Angeles on 9 May.Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

California’s huge university system is facing widespread disruption after workers voted to hold a series of strikes in protest of its treatment of Gaza protesters.

The University of California (UC) has more than 280,000 students and 227,000 faculty and staff on campuses across the state.

Members of the United Auto Workers (UAW), which represents 48,000 graduate workers throughout the system, voted to authorize a strike on Wednesday. On Friday, the union called on graduate workers at UC Santa Cruz to walk off the job on Monday. About 2,000 graduate workers are represented by the union at UC Santa Cruz.

The vote was called in response to charges of unfair labor practices filed against universities over their response to Gaza protests where union members were attacked by counter-protesters and police.

The UAW called for a ceasefire in Gaza in December. Best known for its representation of auto workers, the UAW is planning to engage in a series of “stand up” strikes where the union’s executive board will call on campuses to strike on a rolling basis. The tactic was used in the UAW’s successful strike against the big three US automakers late last year.

“At the heart of this is our right to free speech and peaceful protest,” said Rafael Jaime, a graduate worker in the English department at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and president of UAW 4811.

“If members of the academic community are maced and beaten down for peacefully demonstrating on this issue, our ability to speak up on all issues is threatened. As days pass with no remedies for UC’s unfair labor practices, academic workers on more and more campuses are preparing to stand up to demand that our rights to free speech, protest and collective action be respected.”

Graduate workers at UCLA, the University of Southern California, the University of California at San Diego, Brown University and Harvard University have filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board over how their university administrations unilaterally changed policies and responded to Gaza protests.

According to the union, UC Riverside and UC Berkeley have been negotiating with protesters over their demands for transparency on university investments and divestment from Israel and weapons contractors and manufacturers contributing to the war in Gaza. The union is also demanding amnesty for all academic workers who face disciplinary action and arrest for participating in the protests.

The University of California administration has claimed the strikes are illegal despite the union classifying them as unfair labor practice strikes that are protected activity.

“The University strongly disagrees with the UAW that any exception to this general rule applies and strongly believes that the action is an unlawful strike,” stated the administration in response to the strike vote. “In response to an unlawful strike, the University will take action with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to assert that the strike is unlawful.”