Monday, June 27, 2011

The Strategic Value of Summer


Summer means no students -- for the UC administration, that means the absence of one of the largest obstacles to their privatizing designs. There's a similar logic in the UC regents' decision to hold their meetings at UCSF Mission Bay. It is a highly strategic space: not only is it extremely out of the way and difficult to get to from Berkeley, but it's also located in what is essentially a post-industrial wasteland, with little else around to provide cover. After thousands protested the meeting at UCLA in November 2009 to approve the original 32 percent tuition hike, it seems the regents decided to retire to less accessible locations.

Summer vacation is the temporal version of UCSF Mission Bay. It's not surprising that it was in July 2009 that the regents voted to give UC president Mark Yudof "emergency powers" due to the "state of financial emergency," which gave the administration unilateral authority to impose austerity measures. Especially as "shared governance" becomes less and less of a reality, we should expect more and more executive decisions to be made and policies to be approved at this time of the year.

The title of this article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel is right on: "During Serenity of Summer, UCSC Implements 'Painful' Cuts."
SANTA CRUZ -- UC Santa Cruz's wooded campus is relatively serene in the early days of the more quiet summer session.

Beneath the tranquility though, the campus is set to execute another round of cuts including laying off roughly 50 non-academic employees in what has become an annual occurrence since 2008.
The layoffs go into effect on Friday, July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. In addition to layoffs, workers are seeing their hours (and pay) cut back. As expected, these cuts will primarily affect non-academic workers. (While there are no layoffs on the academic side of things, 40 more faculty positions that are currently empty, and 120 teaching assistantships for graduate students, will be permanently eliminated.) While UC spokespeople talk about how much much their work is valued, they acknowledge that the student-as-consumer is the primary target.
"After years of reductions in state support, we've gotten to the point where every corner of the campus has been impacted by these cuts," UCSC spokesman Jim Burns said. "It's also true that units farther from the classroom have been particularly hard hit -- not because the campus doesn't value those areas and the people working in them. But because we have tried to the extent possible to reduce cuts to the academic areas in an effort to protect student access to the courses they need."
Much like the tuition increases, however, these poverty wages are not a function of the so-called financial crisis. Rather, it's a function of a class war that's been occurring for decades:
During her two decades at UCSC, [custodian Rosario] Cortez has held several second jobs, including other custodial positions and a job at a bread factory. Currently she works five days a week at UCSC, eight hours a day, where she earns about $2,200 a month after taxes, then makes and sells tamales on the weekends for extra income.

Cortez's sentiments were echoed by Ernesto Encinas, a cook at UCSC who cares for his 86-year-old mother and 14-year-old son.

"Everyone I know has a second job," Encinas said. "There is no rest with the wages we make here. You can't make ends meet with just the one job with the way cost of living keeps rising. Any little change in our income can be devastating."
With these cuts comes not a decrease in the amount of work expected but precisely the opposite: speedup. Custodians, for example, are required to clean more areas during a single shift. Administrators get around this in a curious way -- by telling workers, apparently, to "clean less," that is, to do a worse job at cleaning more areas. It's a recipe for disaster -- especially in the context of ongoing layoffs, this amounts to an incredibly difficult balancing act for the workers. On this note, check out what an asshole Jim Dunne, the director of UCSC's physical plants department, is:
"I have heard [the complaints]," Dunne said. "We often only have a few months to implement changes and rework how we do things. We are making a lot of effort to communicate to custodians what that redesign is, but adjustment takes time. It is a difficult situation for both sides. Custodians take a lot of pride in their work. When you tell them to clean something less, that's hard for them."
Yeah, that's the only thing that's hard for them.

If they ever doubted it before, UC administrators now understand that the best time to implement austerity are the summer months. Summer evacuates much of the potential resistance -- with students and faculty mostly away, the only thing standing in the way are the workers, precisely those hardest hit by the cutbacks. It also functions usefully as a time barrier -- one of the administration's most effective tactics is simply to wait protesters out. (Look at what's happened with the last two hunger strikes at UC Berkeley.) Finally, summer marks the point at which many veteran student protesters graduate and move on. For anti-austerity protesters, it will become increasingly important to incorporate the summer into strategic thinking. This does not necessarily imply a need for stable organizing structures, which contribute their own problems, but it does indicate the need to directly address and even intervene in some way during these months. After all, the success of the walkout on September 24, 2009 depended on the work that was done by students, faculty, and workers before the school year had even begun. This does not necessarily have to take place on campus. It could also mean looking to other organizing bodies outside the spaces of the university that are attempting to build capacity for resistance against austerity.

If fall is the moment of attack, and after the fall the moment of reflection, then before the fall is clearly the moment of preparation. But maybe it's time to rethink this calendar?

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