The UC Berkeley Student Strike of 1999
In May of 1999, a group of students from the University of California, Berkeley went on strike to protest the treatment of custodial and dining hall workers on campus. The strike, which was organized by the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC), was supported by a number of other student organizations, including the International Socialist Organization, United Students Against Sweatshops, and the NAACP. The strike lasted for two weeks and ended with the university agreeing to negotiations with the workers.
The strike at UC Berkeley was significant for a number of reasons. First, it was one of the first major student labor actions in the United States. Second, it demonstrated the power that students have to effect change on their campuses. Finally, it showed that when students are organized and united, they can make a difference.
2. What led to the strike?
The strike at UC Berkeley was precipitated by a number of events and factors. First, in 1997, the university began outsourcing its custodial and dining hall workers to outside contractors. This practice, known as privatization, had a number of negative effects on workers, including lower wages and fewer benefits. In response to these conditions, the workers attempted to unionize with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877.
However, the university resisted the workers’ efforts to unionize and instead began a campaign of intimidation and harassment against them. In particular, the university began firing workers who were involved in the union organizing effort. This campaign of intimidation led to a series of protests by students and community members in support of the workers.
The second event that led to the strike was a report released by SEIU Local 1877 in March of 1999. The report, entitled “Working Conditions at the University of California: A Survey of Custodial and Dining Hall Workers,” detailed the poor working conditions experienced by these workers. In particular, the report found that many workers were paid below minimum wage, did not receive health benefits, and were required to work excessive hours.
Finally, in May of 1999, five student organizations from developing countries – including Bangladesh Student Association and African Students Union – joined forces with SLAC to form a coalition called Students FightingSweatshops in Solidarity (SFSS). SFSS began holding rallies and pickets in support of the workers and calling for an end to privatization at UC Berkeley. It was at one of these rallies that students decided to go on strike.
3. The effects of the strike
The two-week strike had a number of significant effects on both the university and the workers. First, it brought national attention to the issue of privatization at universities and its effects on workers. Second, it resulted in an agreement between the university and SEIU Local 1877 which increased wages and benefits for custodial and dining hall workers. Finally, it led to the formation of SFSS, which continues to fight for worker’s rights on college campuses today.
The UC Berkeley student strike of 1999 was a significant event in both the history of student labor activism and the fight for worker’s rights on college campuses. The strike demonstrated the power that students have to effect change and make a difference in their communities. It also showed that when students are organized and united, they can accomplish anything they