Santa Barbara, CA – When I moved to Goleta, California in August of 2006 to attend the University of California Santa Barbara, a major expansion by the University into Isla Vista was already underway, by the time I left six years later, the streets had been widened and the sidewalk glittered, fully grown palm trees were planted to line the path to campus, and multi-purpose storefront bottomed condos had been erected where single story buildings and multi-family apartments once stood, and the houseless population, had been confined to a single park.
The gentrification of slum-like family apartments into posh student housing came through the mass eviction of its tenants, Mexican working class immigrant households, to make room for wealthy, mostly White, undergraduate students as the campus pushed into the unincorporated residential zone of Isla Vista.
It was at vigils in front of these apartments that I first encountered the local community. This experience would greatly shape my M.A. project on community formation in Goleta because Isla Vista was one of three enclaves of Mexican communities that were under threat of development. The second was in Ellwood next to a beach resort, and the third was Old Town.
The way that I survived and that I kept my sanity in tact, as a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara was to make community with the people who lived and worked there. This meant Mexican immigrants who worked in the kitchens of local restaurants, facilities workers, janitors, tenants, barbers, students, staff, and adjunct faculty.
The common thread to our self-organization in Santa Barbara was Zapatismo. The EZLN’s Other Campaign was in full gear by 2006 and I encountered other students engaged in local struggles through the preparation for the Tijuana encuentro between Mexicans and Chicanos. Out of this struggle came a cadre of compañerxs who continue to work in local community struggles, some of which never make the news.
From the beginning of our encounters with the communities that we lived in, we cultivated long term relationships. One of the most profound was between local AFSCME 3299 rank and file facilities workers and janitors and with the houseless population of Isla Vista.
It was in getting to know about their struggles that ours were strengthened and vis versa. One of the first activities that we did together was to map out the power structure of the University that we were facing. We would meet during AFSCME 3299 janitor and facilities workers lunch break at 9pm.
It was there, without the presence of union reps, that they shared their frustration with the compromises that their union leadership was making at their expense, because of heavy government cuts to education that facilities workers and janitors took the brunt, not only were their wages cut, but there was the application of furloughs, which basically meant for them, being systematically laid off without wages.
It was common for these workers to hold three jobs, something that they shared with many students in order to make the exorbitant rent prices to live close to where you work, families paid anywhere between $1000 to crowd into a studio to $3000 to cohabitate in a house with several families. It was a common practice for a family of 5 to rent a one-bedroom apartment in Isla Vista, live in the living room and rent out the bedroom to an undergraduate student for $500 in order to afford rent. The development of Isla Vista only led to higher rents and the expansion of these practices.
One of the workers who we encountered was also sick; he suffered from a chronic illness that required routine treatment. In order for him to qualify for his health benefits he had to work a certain amount of hours that were being affected by the university furloughs, and in order to pay for his medicine he had to work two part time jobs.
Another janitor, on top of all that was happening with her contract was consistently mistreated by tenured Chicano faculty who would harass her by accusing her of stealing from their office and because of their suspicion treat her with hostility.
What we came to understand from these relationships was that we were all in this together, and that some of us were more susceptible to harm than others. We used that map to bring the administration to the table with these worker’s union representatives. I was present at one of those negotiations, where University of California managers sat us in a conference room and proceeded to explain to us how much they believed in our cause and social justice, but how little they could do, their hands were tied and that the facilities workers should be grateful that their jobs had not already been eliminated and bid out to private contractors. I think it was in that meeting that I began to first think about what adjunct professor Manuel Callahan coined as the problem of the “browning of the managerial class.”
The University administrators at UC Santa Barbara were majority women and people of color who managed other women and people of color to justify their six figure salaries. One graduate student in my department accessed public information on salaries, compiled them and distributed a sheet of everyone’s salary to their departmental mailboxes. No other information was necessary; it demonstrated the reason why my department and the UC was the most sued for wage violations and hiring practices. The numbers showed the extreme differences between equally competent faculty along the lines of gender. Even with this evidence as to why the faculty should unify with the rank and file workers and students in struggle, they did not.
This struggle happened within a context. One made up of a long history of struggle with the University of California, a struggle that began with huge victories in ’68, a period when UC was free public education, and that continued through the capitalist imposition of dominance that culminated last year with the naming of Janet Napolitano, known for draconian measures in Arizona as the President of the University of California.
The rank and file at the University of California has demonstrated a lot of resiliency. As described above, a coalition of students and rank and file workers brought the administration to the table, which union leadership had not been able to do, though it was like running into a brick wall. The aftermath of that brick wall was the rank and file of AFSCME 3299 in Santa Barbara taking their union back into their own hands as a grounds worker told me just before leaving to Washington. My union, UAW 2865 also launched a coup against our union leadership, led by the Berkeley campus.
On November 20, 2013 the union of which I am a rank and file member, UAW 2865, will be joining AFSCME 3299 in a sympathy strike. This resolution to strike passed by a 96% majority.