On Wednesday November 17, UC Berkeley lecturers won a new contract with the UC system, after lecturers, faculty and students joined forces and fought for better working conditions and against unfair labor practices. They organized rallies, informational events and prepared to strike. The threat of a strike brought the employers to make concessions and agree to a contract.
This fight was a response to the terrible working conditions the UC lecturers have endured for years. They teach between 30% to 60% of credit hours on the UC campuses. On top of that, they spend countless hours grading papers, designing curriculum, and providing guidance and emotional support to students. Despite their importance, lecturers are paid very little for their labor. Some lecturers are paid as little as $20,000 per year and have to work at multiple universities to make ends meet. 80% of lecturers are hired as part-time workers, and many are not eligible for key benefits such as healthcare. The UC system argued that there is no money to pay lecturers better – but at the same time the President of the UC system earns as much as $900,000 a year!
Many lecturers are attracted to the chance of becoming a tenured professor after their 6th year of work at the university, but few are able to do so. Lecturers have very little job stability, and many don’t even know if they are going to be rehired each semester. As a result of these horrible working conditions, a third of lecturers quit every year. The lecturers are being treated as disposable by the university administration – even though this entire university system is dependent on their labor. The austerity imposed on the university workers is just another example of what is happening to the workforce across the board: forced to work harder for less pay, while the managers and capitalists at the top increase their profits.
The lecturers’ struggle comes on the heels of “Striketober”: workers across the U.S. are demanding better wages and conditions after decades of attacks on the working class. The past weeks leading up to the contract were a moment for many lecturers to reflect on their own condition, to talk with their peers and for students to also open our eyes about the exploitation of the people that teach more than half the classes they take in the campus. Although the new contract leaves many areas unaddressed, and the wage increase is still far from adequate, it is a step in the right direction.
The lecturers’ fight shows that if workers organize and put up a collective resistance to the bosses, things can change. Even a small victory increases the confidence of workers in their own collective power. As we fight for better conditions under capitalism, we must also keep our eyes on the prize: getting rid of this exploitative capitalist system altogether.