Part 1

The strike at the University of California, the largest strike in the history of US higher education, contains many key lessons for militants working inside universities today. Its advances should be evaluated not primarily in what it gained or lost at the negotiating table, but in the organization it built and the capacities it developed within the wide layer of workers who led it. This latter claim, undoubtedly contested today, will be our focus here.

Since the strike’s conclusion in December of 2022, several retrospectives have been featured in publications like Jewish Currents, Brooklyn Rail, and The Real News. Such reflections are important, as organizers and observers try to make sense of a massive, complex, and diffuse action. However, the focus of these articles tends to center on the errors or the achievements of union leadership at the bargaining table.1 We think our movement is better served by an analysis that takes stock of the strike’s many lessons and evaluates whether or not we find ourselves in a stronger position to act today, in its wake. This is especially urgent now, as the UC is waging a targeted campaign of harassment and retaliation against the most active segments of workers at relatively isolated campuses like UCSD and seeks to pass off the funding of contractually codified raises onto shoestring department budgets. Whether or not we are able to mount a real opposition to our employer’s offensive is an open question. What seems clear is that the deeper meaning of the country’s biggest higher ed strike will at least in part be determined by what steps are taken next.

This account of the strike is rooted in the perspective of organizers at UC Santa Cruz. We offer a comprehensive overview and assessment of the organizing strategies and tendencies active across the state, as well as an account of the unfolding of the strike from a campus where four in five workers voted against the final contract, motivated by the assessment that they were in a position to fight longer and win more. As militants engaged at the center of a protracted wildcat strike at UCSC in 2019-20, and as participants throughout the entirety of the more recent contract campaign on the ground and at the bargaining table, we record what we see as critical moments and lessons for future organizing in higher ed. Such an appraisal is critical, as higher ed workers across the country are looking to the UC for lessons as they prepare for labor action on their own campuses. It will also, we believe, have a certain purchase beyond our sector, as it invites worker-organizers to reconsider the utility of formulaic approaches to organizing that have dominated the labor movement for decades.

The 2022 UC Strike: a view from UCSC

While the UC strike is often noted for its scale, its duration was also remarkable. The strike by academic student employees (grad and undergrad instructors), student researchers, and postdoctoral fellows at UC lasted six full weeks starting November 14, including a week-long ratification vote on a tentative agreement on the contract for the first two categories of workers (the postdocs accepted a contract earlier). We divide the strike into three distinct phases, each lasting roughly two weeks, from our perspective at UC Santa Cruz. These are: an initial “open” phase during which no-one could honestly claim to have an authoritative sense of what would happen; a secondary phase of intense “contestation” between distinct visions and experiences of the strike, while UC refused to budge on its pre-strike bargaining positions; and a final, “terminal” phase, where attention diverted to state governments and independent mediators, and the University finally threw a bone sufficiently large for our union staff and officialdom to drive towards ratification. It is essential to provide a relatively comprehensive account of the strike itself, to capture the reality of contestation and uncertainty that prevailed throughout its duration. This openness and messiness, characteristic of the strike as a whole, is largely absent in other narratives.

Open Phase

On our own campus, preparation for the strike ramped up through summer and early fall, once we were satisfied that the contract campaign had retained its worthwhile demands, and had settled on an open-ended (rather than time-delimited) strike as its strategic lynchpin.2 In order to prepare for a long-haul strike to win transformative demands, we reasoned that we would need some way to assess our power at any given moment, to figure out where we were strong, where we were weak, and where additional organizing effort was needed. To do this, our campus organizing committee produced two “power maps” of the workforce at UCSC for the fall quarter. The first listed courses with more than 100 students, and all classes that were prerequisites for student progress, and then identified who exactly was assigned to teach each one. This involved scouring the course listings and extensive outreach to department stewards and rank-and-file members. The other map — a more difficult prospect — sought to lay out the most prestigious and lucrative research labs and the workers assigned to them. Our approach differed from the approach taken on other campuses, where “department organizing” primarily meant building a voter turnout machine for the strike authorization vote, and assigning a nominal picket captain and strike counselor to attend to matters such as picket attendance and strike fund accountancy.

With our campus maps in hand, we phoned and met up with workers from the courses and labs we considered strategic. For the teaching assistants, we made two asks: (1) deliver a ten-minute “teach-in” about the strike to their students; and (2) call a meeting and create a group chat with their coworkers. By inviting our coworkers into the position of “teaching” or explaining the strike, we were able to disrupt a dynamic that is common to organizing meetings in general, where these same workers would likely be asking questions, rather than answering them. Teaching the strike became a mechanism through which our coworkers asserted ownership over the strike itself.

As the strike neared, department stewards staged meetings within their departments and across campus to undertake a detailed assessment of the situation, the necessary legal information, and to recommend organizing steps in preparation for what was ahead. Presentations at these meetings, unlike the messaging we witnessed on other campuses, did not seek to oversell the strength and certainty of our legal protections, nor the probability of a swift victory. It was an occasion to identify, strategize, and seek ways to overcome genuine, and often granular, fears and concerns, and to form department-level organizing committees (OCs). We were, in short, preparing for a long and potentially grueling struggle, convinced that this was likely the only path to winning our demands against an employer like the UC. We then, like organizers at every campus, were consumed by the rigmarole of collecting strike authorization votes and signing people up for strike pay.

We approached the start-date of the strike with tremendous uncertainty. We became concerned by our bargaining team’s sudden willingness to engage in closed-door, sidebar meetings with management in the days leading up to the strike. We had seen, only one year earlier, another UC union settle a contract overnight on the eve of a strike, and were encountering frequent questions on our campus about whether there would, in fact, be a strike. Even from our positions on bargaining teams and in statewide OCs, we could not answer with surety. We also perceived a lower level of enthusiasm on our campus than appeared on other campuses, according to reports and photographs circulating on social media.

In hindsight, and in contrast to other campuses, we consider the sober mood at UCSC to be a consequence of differing strategic orientations to the prospect of strike action: we were not prioritizing a massive week one turn-out but commitment to sustained struggle. In our view, the level of clarity, unity, and steadiness we encountered on our picket across the duration of the strike speaks volumes when compared with the obvious acrimony elsewhere (and online). For their part, our union staff and official leadership seemed genuinely convinced that a strong strike authorization vote and a large showing in the first week, our moment of “peak power,” would elicit meaningful movement from the University.3 From their perspective, the only relevant leverage point was quoting a percentage or number (“48k”—the notional number of workers across the three striking units) and all would flow automatically from there, aside from some niceties at the bargaining table. This, certainly, did not happen.4

Over the first two weeks, UC held the line on their pre-strike bargaining position. On campuses where a swift strike action and settlement was assumed, our employer’s intransigence resulted in surprise, uncertainty, anxiety, and confusion among leaders, staff, and rank-and-file workers alike. These feelings, which characterized the opening phase of the strike, were not difficult to comprehend. Many workers were walking off the job for the first time. The sheer scale of the strike, in numerical terms and in the geographic distance between campuses, far exceeded the combined networks and relationships of any discrete set of organizers within the union. As a result, the leverage of the mobilization to force movement from our boss was difficult to assess. In many places, it was not yet clear what proliferation of political tendencies would emerge, how popular they would be, or what the lines of division would look like.

From the beginning, there were crucial questions about the strike and its strategy that no-one was in a position to answer. Were workers on strike because they held a clear-eyed belief that they could win ambitious material demands like COLA (a cost of living adjustment to end rent burden—the centerpiece demand of the contract campaign)? Were they walking off the job because they recognized their own collective capacity for disrupting the employer, or because they saw it as a legally above-board, probably brief, and largely risk-free demonstration, satisfied to win a handy wage bump? Indeed, how many workers were even withholding their labor, and how were those numbers distributed across campuses, academic fields, or strategic sites like high-value labs and high-enrollment classes?

As a razor-thin majority of our own bargaining team volunteered dramatic movement on our pre-strike demands, we discovered that a far larger section of the union than we could have assumed was receptive to a militant orientation toward strike strategy and demands. This signaled, for the first time, a mass rank-and-file attentiveness to every move of the union leadership that was unprecedented in degree, intensity, and scale in the history of the union local. Like many higher-ed unions (and indeed unions across the country), broad rank and file interest in union activity at UC is typically negligible. Almost every leadership position held during the strike was won by acclamation, and turnout was unremarkably pitiful where an election was warranted. The previous contract in 2018, as well as statewide union initiatives in the intervening years (such as the failed Fight for the Public electoral drive in 2020), confirmed the remoteness of the union to the lives of UC workers, whether they were members of the union or not.5

But now, abruptly, several hundred workers, with hundreds more in zoom overflows, began attending bargaining caucus sessions, many of them articulating with perfect clarity why the precise formulation of the COLA demand—to peg our income to the rental markets over the life of the contract—was an essential reason that they were on strike. As rumors filtered out that our bargaining representatives were preparing to slash our wages demand while the UC stood still, a petition urging the team to hold out garnered 2,000 signatures in a single day. This was clear evidence that the COLA demand resonated profoundly with workers across the state, just as it had in the 2019-20 wildcat strike at UCSC. When this demand was combined with the potential militancy of a massive and open-ended strike and a strategy adequate to winning it, the union became both relevant and a site of determined struggle for huge swathes of workers at UC.

We were convinced that the size of this rank-and-file movement within our union was enough to sustain militant action in the context of our workplace, even if it required a little more focus and channeling. But it was always possible to dismiss this remarkable engagement as “minoritarian,” and push for an urgent settlement. What’s 2,000 signatures out of 48,000? For the union’s staff and official leadership, there was a “good” kind of engagement (high raw numbers of strike authorization votes and electronic picket sign-ins) and an “unrepresentative” and “noisy” minoritarian engagement (substantive criticism of leadership decisions). Here, nuances of strategy were evacuated by the recitation of simple percentages and through appeals to a silent majority of workers who were apparently pleased with the bargaining strategy that carried the day—a satisfaction intuited from their complete silence. This elided substantive mobilization and militancy into forms of “participation” or “engagement,” more appropriate to measuring “influence” online in clicks and likes. The substance of worker intervention could then be contrived, ignored or sidelined. Picket lines were invoked as symbolic structures rather than living forces, for the sake of argument, with detrimental effects. At the end of this open period the question was: could a viable strategic alternative, one rooted in the self-activity of rank-and-file workers, cohere?

Contestation Phase

After two weeks, the pervasive feeling of uncertainty crossed a threshold. We were confronted by, on the one hand, an ambiguous drift in leadership statewide and, on the other, a crystallization of interest and energy behind the COLA demand. It was at this point that workers were forced, across the system, to develop a more coherent assessment of the strength of the strike in order to decide collectively what to do next. This effort defined the contestation phase of the strike.

While the moment of “peak power” had come and gone without concession from the boss on our core demands, official leadership, who had hewed so closely to the validity of this syllogism, panicked.6 They began to emphasize what they perceived to be our own position of weakness in semi-public meetings, on picket lines, and in correspondences with strike captains. The message was clear: due to our weakened position, the time had come to settle. However, the communications of the union leadership largely failed to find resonance among ordinary workers active in the strike. As a result, an uptick in friction was palpable. The president of UAW 2865, for instance, was shouted down on a picket line at UCLA during his attempt to rationalize the bargaining team’s decision to slash our economic demands.7

Though workers intuited that the fight was far from over, a strategy to win was needed. It was within this context that workers at UCSC and in sections on other campuses formulated and proposed a condensed vision of the long-haul strike — our plan to win. In short, the long-haul strike can be understood as a strategy tailored to the university as a workplace, which requires us to exercise the power we wield specifically as university workers. As our comrades in the UK have noted, the University is unlike other worksites. Points of leverage are various and pressure takes time to accumulate. This is because work can be shifted around, syllabi can be adjusted, deadlines can be extended, and requirements can be altered. Given this, we reasoned, in order to best position ourselves to win a demand like COLA, which had become the central and universal demand of the contract campaign, we needed to inflict a steady and indefinite accumulation of missed instruction hours, especially late in the term, along with the passage of deadlines for final exams, grades, and research grants, and for this to fold into the beginning of a new term. In short, we needed to prepare for a long fight.

One challenge of long strikes is the doubt that they elicit among participants. Many days can pass without movement, picket line numbers fluctuate, and moods shift. Because of this, having a clear picture of our leverage, at every phase, was key. In contrast to the metrics touted by official leadership, which were focused solely on picket line check-ins, we argued that the number of people actually striking their labor and their strategic location at the time of the strike needed to be known and collectively shared among workers.8 Withheld labor, afterall, was where our strike’s power was located.

At this point, on our campus, the power maps we developed in the lead up to the strike became an indispensable tool for maintaining our confidence in the labor action as such. Each week of the strike, department stewards used these maps to communicate with workers in their department to determine whether or not they were still on strike, what exact number of grades they were withholding, and whether or not their faculty supervisors were likely to scab.9 Importantly, a network of department stewards already existed at UCSC, and in key departments like Sociology, Physics, Environmental Studies, and History of Consciousness, had real numbers as well as deep contact with the workers closest to them, their leadership anchored in a genuinely collective process of department-level organizing. At the end of each week, our organizing committee held a meeting on the picket line and stewards reported their numbers back to the group in terms of percentages. Stewards in over 30 departments regularly reported that an overwhelming majority of their department was holding the line. We then shared this information widely with our coworkers, in department group chats and at rallies. The reports helped to mitigate the anxiety workers experienced as picket line numbers dwindled in the lead up to the holiday.

Unfortunately, up until this point, UC Santa Cruz was the only campus at which organizers had a rigorous idea of how many people had, in fact, stopped going to work, and where they were situated relative to the power map. It was becoming increasingly clear that, in order to maintain confidence in the strike, workers on other campuses would need to develop their own assessment. At UC Santa Cruz, the emphasis on departmental organizing vis-a-vis the power map, provided something like a template for workers elsewhere, though at this point, its dissemination and adoption was incredibly uneven. Given the solidity of militancy on our campus, our organizing committee began to think about how to scale up. One idea that emerged was that workers at UCSC needed to link up with workers in sibling departments on other campuses in order to transmit whatever lessons and tactics were useful and to collectively troubleshoot problems. We reasoned that these kinds of spaces, which often took the form of a group chat, could provide an intermediate zone for concrete discussion that mass forums attended by hundreds or thousands of workers could not.

There were already places where this scaling up was occurring. Student researchers on our campus created a group chat called “UC-wide Physical Sciences,” which was joined by a hundred scientists across the state. Earlier in the strike, a handful of workers in the Sociology department at UCLA arranged a meeting with two workers from the Sociology department at UC Santa Cruz. In this meeting, we shared the challenges facing our respective departments, as well as tips for outmaneuvering those faculty intent on obstructing the strike, and resources for effectively withholding grades. We also discussed, at length, the importance of being able to accurately assess strike power. We shared our power mapping template, which workers at UCLA adapted, used, and disseminated to other departments on their campus. In fact, their adaptation produced a superior power map, replacing ours as the template that was ultimately distributed by rank-and-file workers across many departments statewide. It was this interdepartmental and cross-campus mode of organization that represented a real path forward midway through the strike.

Perhaps the most concrete success through this phase was overcoming an aborted effort by the union leadership to push to accept a tentative agreement at the end of the third week of the strike, a sequence that is glaringly absent from other accounts. It was then, very early in the morning of Saturday, December 3rd, that UC passed a new contract proposal that contained scarcely anything new. While workers were rightly incensed, and generally deemed the offer unserious, we learned that the uppermost leadership of the union was already crowing victory in meetings. A powerpoint presentation and talking points had already been worked up and it was now the task of staff and official leaders to hold townhalls on every campus and in as many departments as possible to present the deal.

Anticipating this, workers at UC Santa Cruz rushed to create our own guide to the proposal , arguing that we were in a position to win more. Additionally, we drafted an FAQ to preempt some of the fear mongering that we were certain to encounter, should workers signal that they might reject the UC’s offer. Indeed, we were already hearing reports of this from workers on other campuses, where official leaders and staff cautioned rank-and-file members about the dangers of the UC declaring “impasse,” should we not accede to a settlement. Using the cross-campus department channels we helped to establish, we were able to circulate our perspective. However, we were not the only ones who took the initiative to understand the proposal, assess its viability, and argue for another path forward. Dozens of infographics and guides were produced and distributed during this period by a myriad of rank-and-file members across the state. As in any moment of true contestation, no document was singularly authoritative.

By all accounts, the townhall meetings held over that weekend were characterized by intense debate, disagreement, and appeals to unity on an alternative basis. As a result of this flurry of activity by workers on several campuses, and a critical tweet by Jane McAlevey which urged union members to reject the possible TA, the bargaining team was unable to vote on moving forward with an agreement.10 Workers, across the state, had taken the offensive, shifting the balance of power in the UC system along with them. Though we moved into finals week without a deal, the organic organizing that erupted among rank-and-file workers during this period was itself a real victory.

Terminal Phase

This was, however, the crest of this wave of worker militancy, and at the end of the first week in December, the strike entered what became its terminal phase. This began with the decision to enter into voluntary mediation.11 Convinced that our strike had collapsed, but unable to vote on an agreement, prominent bargaining team members and union staff were now calling on workers to “escalate like hell” (ELH), a slogan that represented leadership’s tactical alternative to the long haul strike. Rather than seeking to expand and fortify the withdrawal of our labor, proponents of the ELH strategy sought to stage a series of sit-ins, sleep-ins, office occupations, and marches on state officials.

However, such actions were not anchored in any principle of disruption of university operations. In fact, their function, self-consciously or not, served primarily to sap energy, catch newly activated workers up in anti-repression work, and divert attention away from the bargaining team’s eventual capitulation. While actions like these can be important, particularly as sites of politicization and outgrowths of antagonism inside larger struggles, it is a mistake to frame them, in hindsight, as the driving force behind the concessions from our employer last Fall. This is because it misidentifies the real points of leverage as being in the press or the legislature, rather than in the labor upon which our employer depends, and thereby fails to exercise power in either.12 The claim that these actions were the decisive factor behind our contractual gains, while convenient in the timeline of events, has more to do with shoring up legitimacy for those that planned them than explaining the significance of the strike as such. Unfortunately, since the strike ended, this interpretation of events has been memorialized in articles across the labor and left press.13 A far more plausible alternative, we argue, is that the pressure of the work stoppage was beginning to ratchet up on UC, as grade deadlines had passed and the start of a new term was threatened by our system-wide strike. 14

Between December 5 and December 17 (finals week and the end of the grading period on most campuses), some workers were torn between building occupations and tallying up total numbers of withheld grades and assessing the strength of the strike. Many more were likely on an extended holiday. The question of our strike’s strength was still unresolved on most campuses. Power mapping was occurring, but not uniformly. Those striking instructional labor seemed relatively strong, but researchers were frayed and many, with important qualifications, had returned to the lab. In an attempt to energize our coworkers across the state for the long haul ahead, organizers at UC Santa Cruz called a virtual rally with high profile speakers including Ross Grooters, the co-chair of Rail Workers United, historian Robin D.G. Kelley, and co-founder of the LA Tenants Union, Tracy Rosenthal. Around 1,000 people attended.

Still, the following week culminated in a majority of our bargaining team accepting a newly proposed tentative agreement, one that included important concessions on the UC’s side. Members opposed to the agreement released their assessment of the situation, arguing that we were in fact in a position of strength, and not weakness. The strike finally ended on December 23 after a week-long ratification vote, characterized by frenzied email, phone, and text banking for the Yes and No votes, as well as various attempts to make a decisive intervention either way. In our assessment, workers were not only going to ratify a contract offer on the basis of its adequacy—what concessions we had won or had yet to win from the employer, though this was certainly part of every worker’s calculation. A contract would only be ratified, we argued, if workers believed our strike was not strong enough to win more.15 For us, the end of the term represented various points of leverage coming into sight, but for many others it was a diminution in the more visible or spectacular signs of strike activity like picket lines, as workers started withdrawing from physical campuses over the holiday break. For many, these visual cues revealed a broader truth that the strike was already over and that thousands of workers were no longer withholding their labor. Put simply, workers on certain campuses observed the strike collapsing around them. Given these circumstances, whatever one’s view of the TA, it hardly made sense to vote against it.

This assessment—namely, that the ratification vote was principally about the strike, rather than the contract—holds even when considering the highly controversial imposition of new “prestige” tiers (augmented base salaries for UCLA, UCSF, and UC Berkeley). While our union siblings in auto have fought for decades to have wage tiers removed, our union leadership was unwilling to take a position against them at the table.16 In some cases, leadership even touted the tiers as a win, ostensibly for those workers receiving the additional compensation. However, we must understand that when workers in our union local ratified the contract, they were not endorsing the tiers or misapprehending their significance. In our estimation, they ratified the contract despite the tiers.


Up until the ratification was certified, we continued to appeal to the long haul strike strategy, and to our leverage lying ahead, but we were unable to offer justifications to argue with any level of certainty that the strike was still alive and well anywhere except at UCSC. Here we saw a real consequence of the fact that strike organizing never incorporated, at large scale, any form of mapping, measurement, or quantification of the number of workers on strike from week to week, where those workers were located in the worksite, and what forms of labor they were withholding. From this angle, and as one Bargaining Team member admitted privately, strike power was truly being measured, at a statewide level, with “vibes.”

Many in our larger orbit saw the eventual contract ratification as a kind of crushing failure, citing the speedy demobilization, the ratification vote results, and the contents of the contract. For us, however, the strike as a whole was a success beyond anything we could have expected. This refers not only, or even mainly, to the outcomes ratified in the contract, but to the vigorous engagement and strategic clarification and contestation that it facilitated, entirely unknown in this union local at the statewide level previously. The “success” of the strike, for us, lies in the extent to which wider and deeper layers of rank and file workers engaged in strategic deliberation, evolved tactics across the weeks of the strike, and discovered new forms of organization and activity throughout its duration. Proper assessment of this process requires enlarging the view with which we approach struggles such as this, including an attempt to perceive connections to earlier waves of struggle, and their links to fights elsewhere in the sector. The contract, seen this way, is a marker only, signaling at best a stalemate, and one which the UC has steadily sought to undermine since the conclusion of the strike.

Through this experience, we learned that the COLA demand has serious appeal beyond our campus, and the long-haul strike is a strategy capable of winning it for workers in higher ed. This strategy, although it did not carry the day statewide, is achievable, as demonstrated by the unified experience of the strike on campuses like ours and the often overlooked, UC Merced, where workers voted overwhelmingly to continue the fight into the new year. Perhaps most importantly, we learned that the seemingly banal proposition about mapping worker power in a specific worksite is absolutely critical to carrying out a long haul strike, perhaps especially in a workplace as diffuse and decentralized as a university. At Santa Cruz, owing to the organizational lineage initiated by a protracted wildcat strike in 2019-2020, we benefited from the coherence of the campus and the eager cooperation and initiative of a wide network of departmental stewards, which was the basis for a robust power mapping strategy at the department level.

While core organizers provided the templates and asked for regular updates, stewards and department organizing committees (OCs) were free to map out their department, call meetings, or do individual check-ins on workers as they thought necessary. Department OCs were consolidated through a series of townhall meetings in the lead up to the strike authorization vote, where a handful of workers began to take on increasing responsibility for staging group discussion over the strike. These discussions focused on the effects the strike was likely to have among other sections of academic workers, the reactions of tenure-stream faculty and lecturers, for instance, and how to handle more mundane administrative matters like registering for strike pay within our own unit. The department OCs themselves varied in size, and at times contained core organizers from the campus-wide OC, but were primarily made up of a wider layer of workers whose unofficial roles as organizers were always concretely linked to the workplace and to the rank and file workers nearest them.

As we have written above, this structure allowed us to ascertain numbers and percentages of workers on strike in almost every department across campus, along with additional insights that only workers located in a department would be able to offer, such as their assessment about whether their department numbers had potential to grow or shrink over the course of another week.17 Later, we were even able to aggregate figures like the number of grades being withheld by teaching workers across the campus, something which solidaristic members of faculty took up statewide. This quantification of strike power functioned both at a campus level, where we could wield numbers with rhetorical authority, and at the department level, where mapping produced greater feelings of connectedness with a collective, as well as a healthy culture of checking-in as the strike went on.

We believe that there is more than a correlation between the organizational patterns involved in our power mapping efforts and the decisive ratification vote numbers on our campus against the contract and in favor of extending the strike. Santa Cruz workers overwhelmingly did feel confident in the power of the strike, in part because there was never a widespread suspicion that strike numbers were flagging. The significance of this should not be overlooked in the context of higher ed, where it can be very hard to know whether people are working or not, and where the picket line does not, by itself, stop the university.

  1. The commentaries that have emerged so far typically jockey for an authoritative position on the meaning of the strike and, more often, its heroes and villains. Should we celebrate this strike fulsomely, tout its victories, and honor the achievements of its “organizers”? Should we roundly condemn the strike as a sell-out of the rank and file by actual or aspiring union bureaucrats, and specifically a betrayal of those workers who represent both its most marginalized and most militant members? This polarization, principally reflected online, presents a spurious image of two apparently coherent camps of “yes” and “no” voters on the tentative agreement, whose primary commitment, it seems, is to shore up the heroism or villainy of the official leadership. 

  2. This latter development was the result of no small effort and internal debate in statewide circles. 

  3. The hazy idea of “peak power” and the role it played in the decision making of our union officials has been examined here

  4. In the strike’s aftermath, this has been explained, with manifest absurdity, by the recent wildcat strikes at UC Santa Cruz. The memory of the wildcat strike apparently meant that UC couldn’t be sure that we would, in fact, stop striking if they met us half-way and arrived at a deal. The wildcat, in this presentation, “undermined our ability to credibly promise to not strike if our demands were met.” 

  5. Fight for the Public was a phonebanking campaign aiming to pass and block a set of ballot measures in the California legislature. Not a single measure went the way the union hoped, and the margin of defeat was typically far wider than the reach of the campaign. 

  6. The link in this sentence takes the reader to one of our strike bulletins or flyers, which we printed for our picket and released online throughout the strike. This continues a practice developed during the earlier wildcat strike at UCSC, described here. Further examples from the recent strike are available here

  7. An audio recording of the incident can be found here

  8. There is, it should be noted, an integral relationship between the picket line, routine worker assembly, and long-haul strategy, however, such that while the picket line not regularly maintain a functional blockade of campus operations (as it might in other sectors), it does provide an obvious venue for displays of comradery and solidarity that cannot easily be discounted in the maintenance and reproduction of the long-haul strike itself. 

  9. It’s worth mentioning that while scabbing did occur in some places, faculty solidarity played an important role in our power mapping efforts. At UC Santa Cruz, faculty organizers power mapped their own colleagues and cross checked their data with ours. 

  10. This is not the occasion to offer a sustained engagement with the role that ‘McAleveyism’ has played in contemporary labor union politics, including ours. We simply note that McAlevey - otherwise taken to be the North Star of labor advocacy for the bureaucratic left - offering a dissenting opinion on the union staff’s strategic gambit, produced no shortage of crises among UAW 2865 leaders. 

  11. Mediation is essentially a process whereby both employer and union agree to bring a “neutral” arbiter into the negotiations in the hopes of administering a swift resolution. In this case the mediator was longtime Democratic Party functionary and current Mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg. Steinberg had just brought negotiations between Kaiser Permanente and more than 2,000 therapists represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) to a close in October, after a 10-week open-ended strike. 

  12. For us, at UCSC, the prospect of a systemwide strike was a singular opportunity for academic workers to assert themselves on a vast scale, developing the organizing capacity necessary not simply to fight but to win; a struggle we had, vis-a-vis the 2019-2020 wildcat strike, important lessons to offer. The statewide leadership, however, saw in the strike an occasion to demonstrate that they were capable of fighting in the legislative arena, developing the relationships needed to exact concessions from above, while waging a media campaign whose goal was to pressure “stakeholders” to act on their behalf. As pleasant as it sounds, a “Tale of Two Strikes” is an imprecise designation for this divergence. 

  13. “We won our contract through a campaign of protest. Between November 14 and December 23, 2022, we occupied UCLA’s Luskin Conference Center, UC Riverside’s Hinderaker Hall, and the University Office of the President in Oakland. We picketed outside a black-tie dinner at UC President Michael Drake’s $6.5 million mansion. We kayaked out to the UC mega-donor Donald Bren’s private island. A crack team even snuck into a Board of Regents meeting to confront UC’s governance face to face. Each wave of direct action led to movement in our direction in bargaining. We wouldn’t have won without freedom of expression and the right to protest.” 

  14. It is worth specifying the strategic value of grade-withholding in higher ed strikes. In the recent strike, there were tendencies both to fetishize the grades as a silver bullet, and to dismiss them as meaningless because of certain admin workarounds (trying to pressure faculty and lecturers to submit grades, pushing the grade deadline back, or converting missing grades to Ps). Both fail to see the grades for what they are: nothing more or less than a significant point of leverage in the long-haul strike, which moreover take time to have an effect. More specifically, the former approach is wishful and ungrounded, and perhaps symptomatic of a certain exalted attitude to the wildcat strikes of 2019-20, which began with a grade action. The latter approach, meanwhile, is especially dismal for its reflexive assumption of worker powerlessness, and for failing to see admin workarounds as themselves a terrain of struggle to build solidarity with other workers and with students. The campaign at Michigan to oppose the legitimacy of “Bullshit Grades,” and to rally faculty around the erosion of their academic freedom, is a case in point. 

  15. We insisted repeatedly through this terminal phase that the ratification vote, in the absence of a statewide power mapping initiative, was the closest thing we would have to a broad referendum on the power of the strike. At our campus, a full 80% of workers voted against the agreement, the most unified vote of any campus, for or against. The majority of campuses, however, voted in favor, which signaled to us the real sense of doubt that workers were experiencing elsewhere. It is impossible to imagine, for instance, that the same contract could satisfy over 70% of workers at UC San Diego and only 20% at UC Santa Cruz. 

  16. In a December 20 Zoom panel discussion entitled “Divided We Beg: Against Tiered Pay at UC,” Nelson Lichtenstein highlighted the detrimental role tiers have played, particularly in the history of the UAW:  

  17. It should be noted that, unlike more formal designations assigned to union stewards in many local settings, what is implied here by the term is activation within department settings and divisions. Someone is “a steward” if they take a leading role in ensuring that a deep connection to the broader workplace struggle is actively articulated in their departments and that their coworkers there find and maintain intimate access to this wider relationship. Successfully undertaking this means multiple stewards in single departments, who, during the strike, formed department-level organizing committees. 


Jack Davies

Jack Davies is a grad worker in the History of Consciousness department at UC Santa Cruz, and Unit Chair of UAW 2865 on that campus. He served on the bargaining term during the last contract campaign.

Sarah Mason

Sarah Mason is a grad worker in the Sociology department at UC Santa Cruz, and a head steward of UAW 2865. She served as an alternate on the bargaining term during the last contract campaign.