[3/02/20] – UCSC Student Cost of Living Strike

Beginning in December 2019, 233 graduate student instructors and teaching assistants at the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) began a strike in relation to cost-of-living increases, rising rents, and low compensation packages. The protest began when these young scholars withheld posting fall 2019 academic grades—more than 12,000 grades in total. These students are asking for a $1,412 increase to their current wage to offset the negative consequences of suffocating rent prices in the Santa Cruz area. In 2018, the students of UCSC unionized with the help of Local 2865, United Auto Workers. This current strike, known as a “wildcat strike,” began without the support or approval of their Local. This past week, 54 of the striking students were fired and over 20 teaching assistants received notice their appointment had been terminated. The consequences of the strike on the University of California education system will be felt for years to come. We explore this week’s topic through the lens of Karl Marx, rising cost of education, fair housing, and labor movements.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for UCSC Student Cost of Living Strike

Learning Objectives

LO1: Discuss the social construction of labor movements in the context of graduate students.

LO2: Explain how the three dominant sociological perspectives can be applied to the exploitation of graduate student labor.

LO3: Explain how the issue of UCSC students striking is related to the rising cost of education.


UC Davis graduate students going on strike over cost of living adjustments

Graduate students at UC Davis are striking Thursday, demanding help with housing. The students say they cannot afford to live where they work and want UC Davis to provide a monthly stipend of $1,553.20 to “reduce rent burden” as housing prices continue to rise.

UC Santa Cruz Grad Student Workers Withhold Final Grades, Strike Enters Day 2

UC Santa Cruz graduate students are on strike, demanding a monthly raise so that they can afford housing. Around 400 grad students are ready to withhold turning in their final grades as the semester winds down. Kiet Do reports.

International UCSC grad students could be deported if demands go unanswered

The university has placed a firm deadline for them to submit grades or face being fired.

Discussion Questions

Using a Marxist paradigm, who are the proletariat in this case? Who are the bourgeoisie? What are the resources they are competing over? How likely is it that these two opposing sides can reconcile their differences and end the strike soon? Explain.

What is the true cost of education? What sacrifices are necessary in order to be academically successful? How does one’s gender, racial, and social class identity converge to create unique opportunities for advantage and disadvantage?

From a functionalist perspective, how does the strike cause instability in the social institution of education in California? Do you believe the consequences of firing these students for striking will end the disagreement or exacerbate it? How is the hierarchical order of your University structured? Who benefits the most on your campus, and who suffers the most?

From a symbolic-interactionist perspective, what does it mean to have a home? How does having safe and secure housing influence one’s perception of reality? What changes when one’s housing situation is put into jeopardy? How can the experience of homelessness influence one’s perception of self?

What are the consequences of housing insecurity? How would you design a system that would provide equitable access to housing for all students on your campus? How would you fund it? Why is it necessary? What are the benefits of being able to live on campus?


According to Karl Mark, how many distinct social classes exist?
a. 1
b. 2
c. 3
d. 4

Graduate students who teach at prestigious colleges and universities get paid very little to do so; some are homeless and hungry on campus. The imbalance in statuses represents what sociologists refer to as ______.
a. job security
b. capitalist complex
c. status inconsistency
d. role imbalance

College is a complex social and academic experience that is governed by a set of formal and informal rules. Sociologists refer to the unwritten and unspoken rules of education as ______.
a. hidden curriculum
b. latent learning
c. graduation guide
d. guided pathways

Photo credit: Prachatai

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