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 Santa Cruz dismisses 54 striking graduate student workers over withheld grades

UC Hastings Workers Vote Overwhelmingly to Authorize Strike

Chinese School District House

By Haoxiang Dai

Education has become one of the most concerned topics for Chinese people, while Chinese house prices rose rapidly in the past ten years, leading to a systematic injustice overlapping these two fields.

House price in China has been unusual high for a decade or even more. For survival, people can just rent a house because rent fee is very low compared to the ridiculous house price. However, nowadays, many rules come out requiring people to buy a school district room otherwise their children cannot go to school. The rule also made requirements about the area of the room and the length of living time. It all turns out that whether children can get good educational resources has nothing to do with the children’s talent and endeavor. The only thing that matters is the wealth and social status of children’s parents. Education is already unfair for students before facing the so-called the most equitable “The national college entrance exam”. Meanwhile, the phenomenon forces all parents under the pressure of unusual high house price, extracting their hard-earned money to the pocket of real estate companies which represent a group of upper classes.

This instance reminds me of Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?”. Like Spivak points out that “the terms ‘people’ and ‘subaltern classes’ [are] used as synonymous throughout [Guha’s definition]” (page 26). The word “Subaltern” defines a group of people oppressed by power. In this case, general Chinese people are forced to afford the sky-high house price for their children’s future. Otherwise, they and their children will be considered as “Others”. As a result, there are so many Chinese families under the pressure of house loans and making money for real estate companies for decades. General people don’t have right to speak. They can only follow the rules made by authorities. However, the reason why it is systematic injustice is the government has strong relationship to these real estate companies. Through bonding sky-high house price with children’s future, Chinese families’ hard-earned money is extracted to authorities for decades. And what is worse, when these children grow up and get married, they have to face the same problem as their parents.

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Work Cited:

Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?”. Class Material.

Ni Dandan. (2018). Chinese Parents Are Paying a High Price for Free Education. SIXTH TONE. Retrieved from

Calum MacLeod. (2013). Sky-high house prices surround China’s top schools. USA TODAY. Retrieved from