On April 30, the Berkeley Cost-of-Living Adjustment, or COLA, General Assembly voted to end its grading strike, about a month after it began.
Despite the grading strike ending, some GSIs are still choosing to withhold other forms of teaching labor, according to campus graduate student and Cal COLA organizer Juliet Lu. The vote was in response to UC Santa Cruz, or UCSC, administrators changing all grades to passing on their campus for undergraduate students who had grades withheld by striking graduate students. UC Berkeley’s COLA movement acted in solidarity with UCSC COLA organizers, who also decided to submit grades.
“This is the beginning of a much bigger movement to reform the way that we think of the university and our relationship with it,” Lu said. “It’s important to think in terms of what we would have lost if we hadn’t gone on strike.”
Lu said she still feels hopeful even though not all of the strikers’ demands were met and that it meant a lot that UC Berkeley students went on strike in solidarity with other UC campuses and were able to raise political awareness.
Lu noted that COVID-19 severely impacted Cal COLA’s ability to have a physical presence on campus and be active in public spaces.
“There was at the same time a realization that as we shifted online, the degree to which our labor, as GSIs, is undervalued and under-recognized in the broader UC system was so much more apparent,” Lu said. “Not only (in) figuring out logistics for switching online, but also (in) doing a huge amount of emotional labor, contacting our students, ensuring personal connections and support were provided as we moved online.”
Lu said she hopes that in the future, science, technology, engineering and math departments will become more politically active and believes that her department — environmental science, policy and management — can help lead the way. She also noted that seeing GSIs from different departments interact and learn from one another was a “groundbreaking” change during the strike.
Moving forward, Lu said, the Cal COLA movement is focusing on fighting the university’s past actions. It will also be pushing for austerity measures that prioritize equity, inclusion and quality of education.
Gerard Ramm, an English department GSI and the UC Berkeley unit chair for United Auto Workers Local 2865, said the union has been focused on getting the UC system to the bargaining table.
When the strike began, the UC system said it would be willing to meet with the union to discuss and address concerns in their next contract negotiations.
Ramm also noted that due to COVID-19, there have been spikes in rent and many academic workers have been spending more than 60% of their salaries on rent.
“Our goal is to ensure every member in the union keeps their job and is fairly compensated for their work,” Ramm said. “The university should sit down with our union and bargain for a cost-of-living adjustment, a fair resolution to the problem.”