Sunday, September 25, 2011

Speech from Sept. 20 Townhall on Austerity

Austerity Forum Notes
Amanda Armstrong

One way to begin considering austerity is to look at how debt and deficits are being managed and distributed. Who's in debt, and who owns debt. Debt entails a promise of future payment, and thus often a promise as well that someone will perform waged labor in the future. With the financialization of our economy – roughly since 1970 – these kinds of promises, or claims on the future, have been multiplied exponentially. Home loans became “mortgage backed securities” and were traded on Wall Street. Student loans were and increasingly are bundled and converted into “student loan asset backed securities,” or SLABS. Our debt is being traded to enrich Wall Street investors, including many UC Regents.

In recent years, though, the levels of debt circulating in our financial systems began to seem unrealistic. The promises on the future represented by such debt didn't seem like they could be kept, especially given the perennial lack of waged work. So the financial system experienced an acute crisis beginning in 2008, and we are now living through recurring debt scares – the crises in Greece and Italy are simply symptoms of a larger crisis of capitalism through which we are living.

A way to think about austerity is that it's simply the name given to the way states and corporations would prefer to respond to this crisis.

A really short story on austerity is that, following the crisis of 2008, those large corporate and financial institutions that made money bundling, parcelling out, and multiplying debt were bailed out by governments; they had most of their bad debt bought up or otherwise absorbed by State treasuries (unlike homeowners, many of whom faced foreclosure; and unlike students, increasing numbers of whom are defaulting on student loans). States then began transferring the debts they incurred to their populations, in the form of tuition increases, layoffs of state workers, cuts to health and education services, the elimination of subsidized loans for graduate students, and the elimination of child care programs.

What had been relatively public goods are now being privatized.


There are a number of ways this larger process of austerity is reshaping the educational sphere, and the UCs in particular.

First, UC workers are facing layoffs; and those who remain employed are experiencing intensified workloads. Operational Excellence is just one of the ways layoffs and speedups are being imposed on UC workers.

Also, course offerings are being reduced, and class sizes are being increased.

Finally, UC Students are facing ballooning tuition rates, and debt levels that are likely unpayable, given the devastated job markets we face upon graduation.

At their most recent meeting, the Regents considered a plan proposed by Yudof to commit the UCs to as much as 81% in fee hikes over the next four years. If this plan goes through, tuition at the UCs will likely exceed $20,000 dollars in four years. The Regents didn't endorse this plan, but they also didn't reject it. Some of them were quoted afterwards saying that they were terrified of publicly endorsing it. They're afraid of *us*, and of our capacity to take direct actions and to build a movement that makes fee hikes and layoffs politically untenable, if not practically impossible, for the Regents and the state legislature. This is our task.

It's important also to say that fee hikes at the UCs, including those on the horizon, wouldn't only affect students currently enrolled, or those who will come to the UCs in future years. They reverberate throughout the entire education system in California, affecting all students. With many high school students deciding that they can't afford the UCs, more are applying to the CSUs. This year, over 600,000 qualified CSU applicants were rejected. Community colleges are also facing massive course reductions and enrollment cuts. What this means is that working class students and students of color in California are increasingly deciding to attend for-profit universities, which almost never provide the educational experience they advertise. They've been found to engage systematically in fraudulent practices. The majority of students at for-profits understandably withdraw after only a few semesters, but not before they take out thousands of dollars in debt. Former attendees of these schools endure half of all student loan defaults.

Extreme student debt levels and financial default are some of the most consequential effects of austerity in the educational sphere.


In addition to pushing us into debt, unemployment, and default, austerity measures also entail the direct, forcible disruption of the processes by which we reproduce our lives.

Reductions in pensions and health services mean more individualized care work for grandparents and elderly parents; cuts to childcare programs mean more time caring for children, or more time during which children are living alone.

These cuts reverberate through our communities; they thus open up the possibility of forms of solidarity and collective action that reach beyond any given institution or sector. In Wisconsin, where a cross-sectoral mobilization occurred this past year, banners were dropped in the capitol with the slogan: “Screw us and we multiply.” We're being screwed; it's time for us to multiply our forces.

In building mass resistance to austerity, there are some particular challenges that we'll have to face – debt and layoffs can make us feel isolated, and can make this isolation seem necessary. The time of resistance can appear constrained. But we must make time to resist austerity; to claim space, to learn from each other, to share food, to wash pepper spray from each others' eyes, to care for each others' children and generally to sustain each other as we take collective action.

We must constitute, through our protest, new forms of collectivity and new ways of reproducing our lives that don't involve the isolation, anxiety, debt, and over-work offered to us by austerity.

On Thursday, we begin again to fight back, together.

No comments:

Post a Comment