Over the years, we students have struggled on our individual campuses in the fight against the deterioration of our education and our futures. It’s time to come together and begin forming a movement toward student unionism. From Chile, to Canada, to Brazil, student unions have proven time and time again that students en masse have the power to win against those who govern undemocratically.
Students are a a heterogeneous population. Our identities, concerns, and beliefs vary by campus. But as students, we have common interests and overarching issues that would be best addressed as a collective whole. We are proposing that students from campuses across California come together to collectively and democratically discuss, decide on, and develop the movement toward student unionization and begin forming models of alternative democracy on our campuses.
Our struggles are one. Our victories are one.
The idea to start working toward the formation of a statewide student union in California came out of the first Southern California Education Organizing Coalition (SCEOC) conference, which was organized by “Students for Social Justice” at Pasadena City College in January 2012. At this conference, a student union working group was formed with the aim of building unilateral student power, outside the influence of other organizations/unions. Inspired by international student movements with strong student unionist foundations—like those found in Canada, Chile, and Brazil—the group put out a statewide call for campuses to start working collectively to develop a movement toward student unionism. By May 2012, the first statewide California Student Union conference was held at Santa Monica College, with 100 participants and 26 schools from all systems of education in attendance.
In its current stage of development, the California Student Union (CASU) is a loose coalition of campus groups within all systems of higher education in California (Community College, California State University, University of California, and Private Universities). CASU organizing has thus far been focused on connecting with other students via regional and statewide conferences as well as collaborating through committees and working groups. The next stage in the project’s development is to begin creating alternative, direct democracy decision-making structures on our campuses. This will entail organizing locally to form coalitions between student groups on campus open to working on the long-term goal of creating these structures, while also organizing around shorter-term local issues that need to continue to be fought. It’s important to keep in mind that CASU is in its early stages of development, and there is still much to work on together in order to continue building student power across the state.
The main alternative democratic model we’ve been looking toward is that of direct, or participatory, democracy. This is a non-hierarchical model whose decision-making process is based on open discussion and consensus. The strongest influence toward using this model as a guide arose from Quebec’s 2012 Maple Spring movement, during which hundreds of thousands of students repeatedly came out into the streets of Montreal in protest of proposed fee hikes and anti-repression laws. The strike took two years to organize, lasted six months, and ended with a student victory. Although Quebec has a long and successful history of student strikes, organizers within L’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ)—the combative syndicalist student union established in 2001 that led the strike—stated that record numbers of students participated in 2012 because the association’s bylaws are structured around concepts of direct democracy, which gives the greatest decision-making power to the smallest organizing units on campuses (for them, these are the individual college departments). This means that instead of an elected board of students making decisions on others’ behalf, all students who are members of ASSÉ have direct access and a stake in shaping policies and actions.
Since Wall Street crashed the economy in 2008, tuition and fees at all California public colleges and universities have increased by over 300%. Nationally, the class of 2014 had an average debt burden of $33,000, making it the most indebted in history. Schools have been privatized and re-segregated as working class students and students of color have been denied access. In 2012, California voters approved Proposition 30 with the intent of re-funding public education. Governor Jerry Brown promised a 4-year tuition freeze. Student protests largely disappeared from our campuses and from the headlines. But despite the will of the voters, attacks on public education have continued, largely under the radar. Only 2 years later, all 3 California public higher education systems have started or are planning fee hikes. In the CSU system, they are being introduced campus-by-campus as “student success fees.” In the Community College system, Long Beach City College has begun implementing a two-tier fee system for their winter and summer sessions. In the UC system, it has already been announced that a system-wide fee increase is overdue.
Students have begun to fight back against these fee hikes and against other instances of privatization and racism in public education. At the UCs, students are demanding the removal of President Janet Napolitano. Napolitano’s appointment is both an insult and a threat. Her previous job was Secretary of Department of Homeland Security, and her expertise is in deportation and surveillance, not education. Graduate student workers in the UC system went on strike in Spring ’14 and won a fair contract, but not without students at UC Santa Cruz coming up against police repression. At City College of San Francisco, students are demanding the removal of Special Trustee Bob Agrella, who was undemocratically appointed by the ACCJC, a private accrediting body bent on shutting down the school in order to further privatize it. Students at San Jose State University have been pushing to roll back fees and hold their administration accountable for exposing students of color to racist harassment and violence. Students at Cal State Los Angeles recently won a dramatic victory against racism by successfully organizing to have Ethnic Studies added to their General Education requirements, and are now building on this success to demand similar requirements throughout the CSU system.
We’ve learned that we can’t look to administrators and politicians for change. We believe that the time is right to unite students behind popular principles, concrete demands, and a solid organizing strategy. If you think so too, then let’s unite and fight forward to reclaim public education!
As amended on 10-20-12 at the Second CA Student Union Conference
- To Fight for the Right of all People to Equal Access to a Free, Quality, Public Education
- To Fight for Democratic Governance of the Schools by Students, Staff and Faculty
- To Unite and Fight for All Sectors of Public Education across California
- To Fight Against Racism and All Forms of Oppression in the Movement, in Society, and Everywhere
- Participatory Democracy
- Orientation Towards Mobilization and Mass Direct Action
- Political Independence
- Student and Worker Solidarity and Unity in Struggle
- National and International Solidarity
- Against Repression: in Defense of Free Speech, Academic Freedom, and the Right to Protest
FALL 2014 DEMANDS
- NO TO PRIVATIZATION! We demand education be treated as a right, not a commodity! Roll back fees, divest from inhumane corporations, and hold administrators accountable.
- YES TO DEMOCRACY! We demand democratic governance by students, staff, and faculty! Remove UC President Napolitano and CCSF Special Trustee Agrella.
- NO TO REPRESSION! We demand an end to the intimidation and culture of violence against students! Campuses should be hate free, rape free, and free speech zones.
- YES TO DIVERSITY! We demand that the academy represent and serve the community! Open undocumented student resource centers and make Ethnic Studies a general education requirement.
Strategic effects of connecting through the above decentralized and federated network:
1) Students engaged and empowered at autonomous grassroots level (all power to the locals!)
2) Outreach and politicization of students becomes easier through communication network
3) Creating coalitions through affiliation process builds power for local campaigns
4) Large scale mobilizing can be achieved by organizing and voting on direct action campaigns
LONG-TERM ORGANIZING GOALS
- Build relationships and solidarity across the state.
- Connect our struggles across campuses and systems.
- Support each other’s local/short-term campaigns.
- Strategize and develop long-term campaigns as a collective student movement.
- Train each other to become organizers, not just activists.
- Create intersectional spaces that help each other grow.
- Connect students to local community and labor struggles and grow the wider social justice movement.
- Commit to creating change through the process of Direct/Participatory Democracy.
- Democratize campus Shared Governance & system Governing Boards.
- Refund education for the long term – Education should be free!
- TO CHANGE SOCIETY!!!!
VISION FOR OUR FUTURES
- Shift from indoctrinating students to educating about building alternatives to social problems
- Make ethnic, gender, environmental, etc. studies mandatory general studies at high school and universities
- Recommit to free and accessible education
Alternatives to Capitalism
- End privatization of natural and public resources
- Criminalize public subsidies of private projects
- Create worker co-operative apprenticeships
- Socialize research funding and outcomes
- End corporate welfare & popular austerity policies
- Place power in the hands of ordinary citizens