Sixty students flooded the desolate streets of campus, rallying and protesting for workers rights and protections moving gradually from Quarry Plaza to the empty Kerr Hall, a UC Santa Cruz landmark known for hosting student protests.
Workers around the world rallied for better working conditions on May 1, also known as May Day or International Workers’ Day. The holiday’s radical history dates back to the 1886 Haymarket Riot, in which laborers demanded an eight-hour work week. This year, May Day was a moment for worker solidarity and coalition building in the face of COVID-19.
The demonstration was organized by student activist group GABRIELA SC, which focuses on fighting patriarchial oppression and empowering women and gender non-conforming people in and out of the Pilipino diaspora. Anakbayan, the Worker Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC), Black Student Union (BSU), COLA4ALL, and the Stop the Sweeps movement worked alongside GABRIELA SC to contribute to the planning and turnout of the demonstration.
Starting at Quarry Plaza, the groups moved to the steps of McHenry Library and stopped at Kerr Hall. At each new location, they paused for speakers to discuss issues ranging from the need for a UC graduate student cost of living adjustment, to stopping city restrictions on where houseless people can sleep.
Demonstrators said both city and university policy drove them to act.
“That is why we named our mobilization ‘No Back to Normal,’ because we know that the city and the university have really been pushing for back to normal operations, where that’s not a realistic goal given the workers violations that are happening right now and the status of a pandemic,” said Mak Aruta Konefal, vice chair of GABRIELA SC. “Just because we have the vaccine doesn’t ensure that we can do that safely. We know that when the university or city pushes for back to normal, that simply doesn’t exist for us and for our communities.”
Graduate student organizers for the COLA4ALL movement Yulia Gilichinskaya and Tony Boardman recounted its now long and storied history, which, since winter 2019, has sought a $1,412 monthly wage increase for UCSC graduate student employees.
Since the early moments of the COLA4ALL movement, members have been at the front of recent UCSC worker rights issues. Gilichinskaya and Boardman spoke on the injury of Sabrina Shirazi on Feb. 10, 2020, who was allegedly clubbed by UCPD. She is currently fielding a lawsuit against the UC Police.
But for Gilichinskaya and Boardman, the fight is far from over.
“Now, a year later, the university announced that it wants to ‘return back to normal,’” Gilichinskaya said. “But we know that what’s normal to them is not acceptable to us. Graduate student workers still do not have a COLA, and are still struggling to survive.”
The demonstration also included organizers reading a statement supporting the movement to free Black writer Mumia Abu-Jamal from federal prison — an effort that gained traction in recent years after numerous witnesses at his trial recanted their testimonies of Abu-Jamal murdering a police officer.
Maissoun Hussein spoke for BSU on their demands and how the current state of the world reinforces the needs for these policies. Ileana Waddy followed up by reading out the demands of the BSU from June 2020, which include the departmentalization of the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies concentration and the abolition of campus policing.
The event concluded with demonstrators sticking signs and posters with their demands on the entrance to Kerr Hall, in an effort to force the administration to read their words and not forget their commitments.
“We are members of the public university. We all know too well the experience of having our needs ignored by the university,” Hussein said. “We, the BSU, have organized for years around the same ideas to the same ends, just for the university to stonewall, punish, and forget the commitments every time.”
CHP is publishing this story during the week of June 7 as part of a backlog on unpublished content from spring 2021. The article was originally written on May 5.