The UC strike has been brewing for 50 years

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Nearly 50,000 academics in the University of California system walked out this week in what could be the biggest strike in California history. Since Monday, when the strike began, classes at the system’s ten campuses have been canceled because there is no one to run them. “Postdocs, scholars, graduate student teaching assistants basically run the university in many ways,” said Lavanya Nott, a researcher and graduate student in the Department of Geography at UCLA in Los Angeles. Time. Their demands — higher wages, paid time off, childcare benefits and public transit passes — are familiar in a state where the cost of living has skyrocketed in recent years, but the crisis they face say they are facing has been going on for nearly half a century. the making. If you want to understand the conditions that created the strike, you must first understand a single law that went into effect 44 years ago: Proposition 13.

In June 1978, California voters were asked to consider a ballot measure called the “Tax Limitation – Constitutional Amendment Initiative” which sought to freeze all residential and commercial property tax rates at the point of purchase. (The father of the campaign, a rambunctious Republican named Howard Jarvis, called the tax revolt a way to stand up to the “moochers and slackers” in government.) At the time, inflation was rampant while taxes on homeowners were increasing, and California voters gladly said yes. Today, nearly 50 years later, a homeowner who bought their home in 1980 is still paying 1980 property taxes regardless of the increase in assessed value as long as the home remains in their possession. (A loophole allows owners to pass their properties on to their children without triggering a revaluation). The resulting calculations are dizzying: A 2018 report found that the owner of an Oakland home purchased decades ago paid $1,168 in annual property taxes, compared to the $13,000 owed by the owner of a neighboring property of similar size purchased in 2016. A 2022 study also found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the biggest tax breaks from Proposition 13 went to whiter, wealthier neighborhoods.

This bled the state of much-needed income, just as Jarvis had expected. While exact numbers are hard to come by, a failed 2020 effort to partially repeal Proposition 13 found that if only state commercial property owners were taxed at fair market value, it would provide the California an additional $11.5 billion in annual tax revenue – most of which would be paid by giant corporations.

This lack of funds, coupled with other divestment decisions at the state level, has impacted every public institution in California, and education has arguably suffered the most. In 1982, the introduction of tuition had effectively declared the end of free tuition in California. As public education spending plummeted, Prop 13’s generous grants to homeowners who arrived early — and the incentives it offered to stay put — made it incredibly difficult for all but the wealthiest residents of California, to break into the housing market. Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in the neighborhoods around UC’s campuses, where housing has become scarce because longtime landlords have organized against new unit development — and continue to get richer. thanks to Prop 13. This disparity also plays out on the CPU. campus, as university chancellors receive competitive pay and free housing (including a $6.5 million mansion recently purchased with state money) while the average student worker earns $23,247 a year.

Given this history and the steep rise in housing costs over the past few years, it’s no surprise that things have come to a head. According to internal surveys of union members, 92% of unionized workers are burdened with rent, with 52% paying more than half their income in rent. And being graduate students, the strikers tried to put together the data to clarify their demands: Alexander Ferrer, housing researcher and holder of a doctorate in geography. candidate at UCLA who is currently on strike, investigated available apartments around the school. Using 2021 census data, Ferrer was only able to find 952 rental units within ten miles of campus that would cost less than 30% of the average graduate student salary. There are 14,300 graduate students at UCLA.

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