For three days, AFSCME 3299 protesters marched through intersections, picketing in the frigid cold at 3 a.m. and in the glaring midday sun.
About 175 student allies stood in solidarity with strikers at UC Santa Cruz’s east entrance. While police physically removed people from the picket line and vehicles forced through crowds, those present had one burning question: where is the rest of the UCSC student body?
“There clearly was a lack of student allies. Some of the students did not take this seriously, they thought it was just a five-day weekend,” said Worker Student Solidarity Coalition organizer Sarahí González Ramírez.
UCSC has over 19,000 students — less than 1 percent showed up for workers’ rights. The lack of participation was exceedingly visible and disappointing.
The message is clear: in a campus that prides itself on being the “original authority on questioning authority,” students care more about a five-day vacation than workers’ rights and social justice.
UC regents and campus administrators were nowhere to be seen all three days of the event, but sent continuous emails to the UCSC student body villainizing the AFSCME 3299 protest. The emails misplaced blame on the service workers for inconveniencing the campus and their tone seemed to intentionally divide worker and student solidarity.
Messages advised students to call the police if they felt unsafe crossing the picket line or were threatened by protesters. But with 125 officers patrolling the protest, which remained peaceful, who was left to call?
Hiring an excessive amount of officers used money that could have gone toward increasing union wages to instead suppress workers and students. Many protesters were people of color who already fear for their lives around officers due to a history of explicit police violence and aggression that is especially prevalent during protests.
The sheer amount of officer presence shifted the blame to union workers, but the UC was the culprit of the strike. While the UC continues to raise the six-figure salaries of top administrators, it refuses to provide its service workers with living wages.
The decision to strike emerged after the UC regents failed to reach a contract agreement with AFSCME following over a year of peaceful negotiation. The protest was a carefully planned, last-resort decision.
AFSCME 3299 workers put their safety and jobs on the line for basic human rights. They want living wages and better health care policies so they can live within, not above, their means.
The lowest paid members of the UC are AFSCME 3299 workers and 79 percent of its members are people of color. Students physically attending the strike were also resoundingly students of color, once again pushed to the front lines while most white students were nowhere to be found.
The same students who arrived at 3 a.m. on Monday morning were the ones who left at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, and few others joined in between.
“Right now I know we need co-conspirators, we need white bodies here protecting us,” said Student Union Assembly President Maxine Jimenez during the protest. “[…] They’re not here for us and that’s really messed up for people to be acting like this is some type of vacation.”
Tension grew between student solidarity strikers and the general Santa Cruz student body, as AFSCME student allies turned to social media pages and called out their peers with captions stating “this is NOT a vacation.”
But other students simply fired back excuses.
On-campus students either went home or fled off campus because they were “worried” they would not get proper access to food, even though workers cooked food for students on the picket lines. Others claimed they did not have reliable transportation, but metro buses were still fully operating off-campus and dropped individuals off at the picket line. AFSCME 3299 allies even volunteered their vehicles as strike taxis for those who wanted to attend the protest.
The lack of participation wasn’t about inaccessibility. It was about students perceiving the strike as a personal inconvenience. Many supported in the form of social media activism, creating Facebook and Instagram posts about the importance of union workers, but without physically attending the protest, their support was merely performative.
If students truly cared about the conditions of AFSCME workers they would have striked in solidarity alongside them. This doesn’t have to mean attending every day of the protest for 16 hours, but showing up for an hour of at least one day.
To encourage students to go to the picket line, AFSCME student allies did a campus crawl, but were met with hostile reactions.
“The response was really hostile,” said Student Union Housing Working Group Member Charlotte Osborn. “Students played Trump’s inaugural speech at Cowell and raised a Trump flag out of their window.”
Students with privilege do not have to worry about the horrible conditions AFSCME workers undergo, as both themselves and their families are often not plagued with these injustices.
Students owe it to AFSCME 3299-represented workers to strike in solidarity. And because the UC has yet to meet their demands, you’ll likely have the chance. If the opportunity arises, stay in town and show up for workers’ livelihoods.