Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Strikes and The Targeting of International Students

By Kimberly Johnson

In December 2019 graduate student teaching assistants at University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) went on a wildcat strike, a strike without union authorization, calling for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to their stipend. Many of the students say they are spending 50% or more of their ~$25,000/year stipend on rent monthly, meaning they are severely rent burdened. The graduate students started with a grade strike, withholding grades from the courses they taught in the fall quarter, but they are now on a full teaching strike. The COLA strikes have spread throughout the University of California school system as well! UC Hastings’ AFSCME 3299 vote to authorize a strike with 89% support last week, representing the UC Hastings School of Law students. Graduate students at UC Los Angeles striked for one day this past Thursday. Some graduate students at UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara are striking, and graduate students at UC Berkeley have said they are strike ready upon the support of other departments. UC San Diego graduate students are set to begin a grading strike on this upcoming Monday. Thursday, March 5th there was a COLA day of action across the UC system schools during which UCSC strikers and their supporters blocked the entrances to UCSC and in-person classes were cancelled.

[Image description: a tweet from Twitter account COLA Agitation Committee that reads “SPREAD THE STRIKE” and then mentions all the COLA accounts across the University of California system. There is an attached image of UCSC strikers blocking an entrance into University of California Santa Cruz.]

During the course of the UCSC wildcat strike the university has threatened the graduate students with firings twice and followed through with this threats, firing about 54 graduate students and telling dozens more they would not be hired for the spring quarter on February 28th. This has not deterred the strikes, but it has been particularly alarming for international students. International students on student visas are not able to get non-university jobs, and without university jobs international students will be forced to pay tuition and/or living expenses out of pocket to maintain full-time student status. Without full-time student status their visas will be revoked. In early February the university reminded international students of this, a clear intimidation tactic.


Intimidating workers with threats to their residency/immigration status is not new or unique to the university, it is extremely pervasive in the US. It is particularly utilized in workplaces that employ undocumented workers. It is not always explicit or aggressive, often employers just rely on fear of speaking out and subsequent retaliation to get away with treating workers unjustly. Polly in The Leavers experiences this when she works at the nail salon that does not pay her for the first 3 months she was there and expects her to pay to be trained. This is clearly illegal, but her boss knew it was unlikely Polly would say anything or be able to do anything about it.

Read more:

UC Hastings Workers Vote Overwhelmingly to Authorize Strike

Diary of Systemic Injustices Showcase

By Xuxin He

The biggest form of systemic injustice in modern day America is ranges from Police brutality in the streets to the sentencing in the criminal Justice System particularly against minorities especially those off African American decent. There are countless witnessing of unjust and egregious acts of both police brutality across multiple states in America. Apart from these situations, there are countless other cases where courts give higher sentences or bail to minorities and African American offenders. Fueling this are the attitudes associated with racial profiling. In most cases minorities are considered social ills, they are seen as predominantly disadvantaged in the school or moral system and are thereby categorized as prone to crime or illegal activities that would otherwise predispose them to experiencing such injustices.

The sad reality behind these injustices is that as much as some offenders duly deserve the punishments they receive, a majority including the poor are incarcerated for no viable crime, receiving punishments much higher than is justly deserved. Examples of such incidents are seen all over the media and on countless reports put out. On the rise especially are countless shootings of unarmed African American individuals ranging from children to adult. With the likes of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri to the choking of Eric Garner in New York City (Sekhon, 2017). According to a police violence report (2017), there were 1,147 killings in 2017 with 92% of them the result of police shootings, Tasers, physical force and police vehicles. Those charged for these cases were only 13, a whopping 1% of all killings.

The irony behind it is that witnesses were able to identify 569 of these officers, with at least 48 having shot or killed someone and 12 with multiple prior shootings. In these cases, the police had responded to suspected non-violent offenses (Violence, 2017). The evident air of such incidents as well as advocacy by activists has led to little to no change in many police departments across the country. Pictures such as the one displayed at the bottom are the result of countless activists, ordinary citizens and community leaders protesting the indiscriminate rise of police brutality across various states in America

Figure 1: protests after fatal shooting by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Protesters march after a fatal shooting by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 2016. Credit: William Widmer/New York Times/eyevine (Peeples, 2019, September 4).

Figure 2: Protestors march & demonstrate against the shooting of Michael Brown

Protestors march and hold their fists aloft as they march during ongoing demonstrations in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 16, 2014 (Reuters, 2016, February 26).




Peeples, L. (2019, September 4). What the data say about police shootings. Retrieved March 6, 2020, from

Reuters. (2016, February 26). Justice Department to Conduct Independent Autopsy of Michael Brown. Retrieved March 6, 2020, from

Sekhon, N. (2017). Blue on Black: An empirical assessment of police shootings. Am. Crim. L. Rev., 54, 189.

Violence, M. P. (2017). Police violence report.