Workers in struggle at UCLA
By MICHAEL SCHWARTZ
LOS ANGELES-The class struggle is alive and well at UCLA. This is something that people in the LA area aren’t used to. Most think UCLA is an institution of learning-a school that cares about the students as well as the professors, TAs, and the many others who work here.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. All UCLA cares about is profit and the corporations who make up almost 75 percent of its revenue.
The administration doesn’t care about the students or the people they employ. If you donate $150 million to the university they’ll name a medical building after you. Remember Ronald Reagan, a man who as governor made slashing health care and cutting the UC’s budget two cornerstones of his legacy? He got a building.
At the same time, the university has rewarded with a pink slip people who dedicated 20 years of their life working for the medical center-and then refused to even meet with them.
In the past few weeks hundreds of people have been protesting UCLA’s labor policies. These labor policies include unfair and unlawful labor practices with the TAs, the attempted elimination of almost 100 jobs, and the continued use of contracted labor.
The main fight, which must be won, is against the university’s use of contracted labor. This is a battle that has been going on for a few years, but it has only been getting attention recently.
When you think about the problem of sub-contracting, usually it’s corporations that come to mind. In fact, this was the main problem the janitors faced in their campaign for justice. Sub-contracting is something corporations can only get away with when workers aren’t effectively organized.
But this problem doesn’t only affect private corporations. It’s also the main problem facing the 150,000 employees of the UC system. This system, with UCLA leading the pack, has followed corporate America’s lead in the quest for cheaper labor and higher profits.
Workers who receive higher wages are fired and then replaced by employees who can receive as little as the minimum wage with no benefits. The result is lower wages, few benefits, and full-time employees who have no job security.
UCLA understands that people don’t like the idea of contracted labor. So they’ve come up with a new term, “casual employment.” This is to present the illusion that there are workers who temporarily work for UCLA at lower wages, but that this isn’t a permanent policy. Basically, they’re lying to us. There are “casual workers” at UCLA who have been employed here over 10 years.
According to UCLA’s “personnel policies for staff members,” if a person works here for over a year, they have to be considered full-time. UCLA has found a way around that legal dilemma. What they do is hire someone for 364 days, fire them, and one day later “rehire” that same person.
Though all workers are exploited under capitalism, you could say these workers are super-exploited. Since these people are technically called “casual employees” they do not receive a pension, social security coverage, raises, or a full health plan. Since they are “casual,” they can be fired without cause and without any notification.
Seventy-four percent of laboratory assistants and 64 percent of researchers are “casual employees.” Recently, almost 100 workers at the UCLA laundry facility and medical records department learned they were going to be replaced by contracted workers. As one worker said, “I’ve given 20 years to UCLA and now they want me to be homeless.”
These labor struggles produced two mass protests involving hundreds of people, which were part of a united-front coalition involving workers and students.
Students and workers at UCLA have joined forces to let the administration know they will not get away with firing almost 100 workers just for a few extra dollars of profit. We also are demanding that our public university not follow the disgusting lead of corporate America and that they put an end to contracted labor, no matter how deceitfully they define it.
The Youth for Socialist Action chapter at UCLA has formed a student/labor committee, which will be fighting for this struggle and for all labor struggles in the LA area.
YSA and SA members marched in May 13 mobilization for Mumia
UC Berkeley student tells off Albright
BERKELEY, Calif.-On May 10, after Secretary of State Madeline Albright wrapped up her keynote speech to 5000 graduates, faculty, and guests at the University of California, Fadia Issam Rafeedie, the student commencement speaker, took the mike, and then tossed aside her reportedly “polite” prepared remarks.
Ms. Rafeedie went on to blister Albright for her defense of American imperialism. She conceded nothing to Albright, who, reported the Contra Costa Times on May 11, “briefly praised U.S. work in Kosovo and the Middle East, bringing a scattering of boos from the crowd.”
Albright didn’t hang around to hear Fadia Rafeedie’s passionate condemnation of the U.S.-led trade embargo imposed on Iraq following the Gulf War and the embargo’s tragic consequences for the Iraqi civilian population-especially children.
Instead, “Albright was hustled out by the Secret Service,” reported the Oakland Tribune (May 11), “before the main course: a rousing, militant speech criticizing Albright and the United States policy in Iraq by University Medallist Fadia Rafeedie, the top scholar in the graduating class of 6500 seniors.”
The press reported that “59 protesters, most concerned with the U.S. trade embargo on Iraq, were evicted by police and the Secret Service before and during Albright’s speech.” Several hundred inside and outside the campus site condemned U.S. policies toward Iraq, and some graduating students wore orange armbands, symbols of their support for the protesters.
Here are some of Fadia Rafeedie’s remarks: “Actually, I share the feelings of a lot of my comrades who were arrested today. I am very fortunate that I am able to give them voice. There are about 5000 people here today. About that many Iraqis will die before we graduate. Commencement means beginnings. Where civilization itself began, it’s now being destroyed.
“I was looking at my grandmother, who came here from Palestine and was very unhappy about the protesters. A lot of you feel the same way. But I don’t believe they embarrassed the university. I think they dignified it.
“Sometimes not saying things, not mentioning things, is like lying about them. I’m going to mention what she [Albright] didn’t mention at all-Iraq and U.S. policy. The cancer rate in Iraq has risen over 70 percent since the Gulf War. The children dying of malicious diseases weren’t even born when the Gulf War happened. … You gave a standing ovation to a woman who stands for everything I’m against. This woman is doing horrible things.”
The next day, Ms. Rafeedie wrote to the Daily Californian, a campus paper, responding to critics who charged that her impromptu remarks were “completely inappropriate.”
“I couldn’t imagine addressing my class in the Spring of the new millennium,” she wrote, “without mentioning what I consider to be the greatest human tragedy of our time, where 2.5 million people have been bombed or starved to death, or who have died of perfectly preventable illnesses because of a U.S. policy intended not to promote democracy or to contain a dictator, but to recolonize the Arab World….
“Watching the protesters get expelled one by one, for speaking out about injustices to which I am willing to commit my life, not only encouraged me to give that speech, but dictated that I do. … The overwhelming support I’ve been receiving from classmates, professors, [and] perfect strangers … are confirming what I already knew: that following my heart up there was the right thing to do.”