Monday, February 24, 2014

The Invisible Violence of UC Labor Relations

The Invisible Violence of UC Labor Relations

(Based on a speech given during UC/UAW contract negotiations bargaining session at UC Davis.)

I want to talk about violence for a minute - especially because we are here at Davis, just a few hundred feet from the Quad, where the globally infamous pepper spray incident happened on Nov 18th, 2011. UCPD has become the face of UC violence around the world, for both the pepper spraying at Davis as well at the batoning of students and faculty at UC Berkeley 9 days before that. These acts of violence represent the unchecked power and cruelty of the UC system and administration. They are not the root of the problem, as many have been saying, but merely the symptom of a more dangerous disease - privatization and austerity -  meaning the closing of the higher educational commons and selling it off piecemeal to the corporate and banker buddies of the UC Regents.

These highly visible acts of cruelty and authoritarianism are not moments when the system breaks down and must rely on sheer violence for its survival, however. These are just more visible acts of violence because they are public. What we don’t see is the constant and institutional violence of the day to day operations of the university because they tend to be private.

When UC management unilaterally implements pay cuts on unionized service workers, over 90% of whom qualify for public assistance, pushing them further into poverty, when the university refuses to pay Graduate Student Teaching Assistants a living wage and perpetually keep us in or near poverty -especially those of us with children - and when the university raises tuition on students who can barely afford to be here already and force them to take out further student loans, they put us all in a situation where we will keep having to make choices that we shouldn’t have to make: Do I want to visit the doctor or feed my kid? Do I pay the utility bill or my credit card? Do I eat healthy and go further into debt or buy cheap food? Can I visit my family this year or will I go yet another year without seeing them?

When workers have to choose between their long term health and homelessness, between feeding their children and putting the heat on in the winter, they are making impossible decisions. UC workers should not be put in this situation, but they are.

This is the institutional violence of the UC administration. It is an invisible violence, a private violence, and it manifests in our lives differently based on our own personal situations, yet it is a product of the decisions made by UC administration and carried out by UC Employee and Labor Relations (from here on in just referred to as Labor Relations).

When pictures and videos of Pepper Spray cop John Pike went viral many thought that it was a moment of the system stepping out of bounds. Chancellor Katehi and other administrators tried to appease the outrage by saying that this would never happen again, and that new policies regarding free speech and demonstrations would be enacted. However this further invisiblizes the other violence of the UC system, the day to day violence described above.The truth is just that this was a more public moment of the logic of the UC administration being mirrored by the UCPD.

This is why when I look across the bargaining table I don’t see mere administrators, I see a group of John Pikes. Actually I see something worse than John Pike. Pike’s violence was momentary and only affected a dozen or so people. Labor Relations is more sophisticated and doesn’t have to actually look at their brutality, they just pull the trigger and walk away before the pepper spray hits. And they do this to 13,000 Teaching Assistants (UAW 2865) and 22,000 service workers (AFSCME 3299) every day.

So I want to call you out, you specifically members of the UC management bargaining team, for your violence. We will not stand it any longer. We are organized and we will fight back.

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