UC Berkeley faculty stood on the steps of Sproul Plaza, donned in faculty robes and carrying United Auto Workers, or UAW, union signs, looking out on a sea of striking academic workers.
“Faculty are supposed to be the heart of this university and what we are seeing today is that we’re not necessarily the heart, the heart is actually the graduate students,” said campus sociology professor Michael Burawoy.
Wednesday marks the third day of strikes and protests by UAW academic workers — the union that represents 48,000 graduate student instructors, postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers. The current strike has one of the largest turnouts ever seen on campus, according to Burawoy. Burawoy said most protests tend to congregate near the entrance of Upper Sproul, yet today’s rally filled all of Sproul Plaza.
For Burawoy, this mass movement feels “terrific” and he thinks this has been a long time coming.
Faculty members joined the ranks of academic workers, striking in solidarity and hoping to boost morale, according to Claudia Polsky, clinical professor of law at Berkeley Law who was at the rally. Chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association James Vernon said it was important for faculty members to show up and support the UAW’s struggle for fair contract wages. Vernon said he is proud of all the faculty that chose to strike and support the UAW workers, and he is excited about the momentum it has.
“This is not just unfair, it’s unsustainable,” Vernon said during a speech at the rally. “The system is broken and you’re going to help fix it and we are here as faculty to support you in that effort.”
However, according to Polsky, some faculty feel caught between conflicting responsibilities — their commitments to their undergraduate students and actions by other faculty.
Yet, the faculty that showed up wore their faculty robes and carried signs, according to Polsky, in an effort to make their presence as visible as possible. Polsky and Vernon agreed that the statements by striking workers about not being able to live on their current wages and being food insecure and homeless are issues that need to be solved collectively.
“Our job is to model the type of academy that we want graduate students to inherit and build upon,” Vernon said. “To do that, we have to show them that we support the struggle for the academy to be an environment where everyone can thrive and everyone can support themselves.”