Are we on the edge of a successful movement for revaluing labor in higher education, or are we doomed to an increasingly slavish situation? The pandemic brings to the forefront the precarity of teachers, researchers, scholars, student workers and staff in higher education, as institutions face financial crises, jobs are cut, and remaining positions are simply not adequate to meet the health and living demands of most, least of all during a public health crisis.

For this special two-part May Day podcast, we talk with Yulia Gilichinskaya and Tony Boardman, active members of the UC Santa Cruz COLA (cost of living adjustment) movement. Yulia, Tony and other graduate students helped organize a wildcat grading strike (using in-person and online organizing tactics) among teaching assistants last fall. The COLA movement has since extended to the broader UC system, with other students and academic workers becoming allies while organizing on their own campuses. Meanwhile, many UCSC strikers have been fired or refused rehire. The union representing graduate student workers across the UC system, UAW Local 2865, is now exploring the potential for a sanctioned unfair labor practice strike.

In part 1, carried out several months ago, we talked with Yulia and Tony about the origins of the COLA movement, the emergence of the wildcat in Santa Cruz, and the successful use of online organizing tactics in conjunction with direct, collective action on UCSC campus.

In part 2, carried out recently, we discuss where the movement is today, in light of the pandemic, the build-up toward an ostensibly impending ULP strike, and what prospects exist for organizing in higher education and beyond.


For those who want to learn more about the developments of the movement beyond UCSC, James Anderson is co-organizing a pandemic focused higher education May-day webinar with other students, faculty, staff, and campus workers at the University of California Riverside. The webinar will explore labor opportunities, challenges, and stories in their pandemic context. It will be held today, May 1, 2020, at 3:30pm PST. For more, see:

UCR COVID-19 Labor Alliance May Day Webinar