UC Santa Cruz Graduate Student Workers Go On Strike

Hundreds of graduate student workers at the University of California Santa Cruz went on strike Monday in response to the UC system’s crackdown on pro-Palestinian protests, their union announced Monday. 

United Auto Workers Local 4811, which represents academic workers, said the walkout was aimed at the university’s “unlawful behavior,” including summoning the police to “forcibly arrest and eject” demonstrators ― actions the union maintains violate their rights as workers.

It was not clear how long the strike would last or whether it would spread to other campuses in the UC system. 

“For many months, workers across California have protested the death, destruction and human suffering in Gaza,” the union said in a video statement on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Over the last two weeks, UC has allowed appalling violence and intimidation against members of our academic community who exercised their right to protest.”

UC Santa Cruz said through a spokesperson that the university’s primary goal was ”to minimize the disruptive impact” of the strike.

“Academic and operational continuity is essential to the University of California’s education and research mission and a core responsibility to our students,” the school said.

The union, which represents 48,000 graduate students and other academic workers, recently took a strike authorization vote in which 79% were in favor of a walkout if leadership thought it was necessary. It said the vote was about “the right to free speech and to peaceful protest without fear of intimidation and reprisal.”

Protests critical of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza have sprung up on dozens of college campuses across the U.S. in recent weeks, leading some schools to crack down aggressively with the help of local law enforcement. 

Earlier this month, police tore apart a pro-Palestinian encampment and made more than 200 arrests at UCLA after counter-protestors violently attacked the demonstrators. Police also cleared an encampment and made 47 arrests at UC Irvine last week. 

Police made more than 200 arrests on the UCLA campus earlier this month.
Police made more than 200 arrests on the UCLA campus earlier this month. Brian van der Brug via Getty Images

The union filed unfair labor practice charges against UC with the state labor board, arguing the arrests were at least partly a response to workplace demands. Those demands include the university divesting funds “from Israel’s war effort.” 

The union advised members at other UC schools to “stand by and prepare” if they were called upon to strike along with those at UC Santa Cruz.

The group’s walkout strategy mirrors that used by its parent union, the United Auto Workers, which waged targeted strikes last year against the “Big Three” of Ford, General Motors and Jeep parent company Stellantis. Striking only certain locations ― as opposed to all campuses at once ― could keep UC administrators off-balance, and leave the union with room to escalate in the future.

Rafael Jaime, the union’s president, said in a statement Monday that the “first step” for UC should be “dropping all criminal and disciplinary proceedings against our colleagues.” 

“Every campus is impacted by UC’s actions, so every campus is ready to respond,” Jaime said. “The faster UC resolves this the fewer people will have to walk off the job.”