At around 12:15pm on May 1, three K7 workers – Thomas Scott Brazier, Nick Castillo, and Rob Antrobus – stepped into Kerr Hall.

Antrobus carried a written notice that UCSC’s Skilled Crafts (K7) division intends to open contract negotiations before their current contract expires in October.

Outside, the International Workers’ Day Rally, also known as “May Day,” raged on. The event served both as the official launch of the UC Divest Coalition at UCSC, and as an opportunity for several groups – like K7 – to petition the administration directly.

The UC Divest Coalition is not isolated to UCSC. According to Abigail Ilan, a seasoned organizer with Anakbayan Santa Cruz, the coalition started at UCLA and has since expanded to every UC campus. Its mission is to demand the UC withdraw from any investments that profit off of war.

Around 100 people showed up to Monday’s rally. 

In attendance were representatives from AFSCME Local 3299, the Worker Student Solidarity Coalition (WSSC), Anakbayan Santa Cruz, the Mauna Kea Protectors (MKP), Gabriela Santa Cruz, Revolutionary Student Organization, Youth Communist League, UCSC Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Starbucks Workers United Santa Cruz (SBWU), and TWANAS Communities of Color and Native American Students Press. 

Of these organizations, WSSC, Anakbayan, MKP, Gabriela, and SJP are working directly with UC Divest. These five groups formed a committee to plan the rally – Ilan took the lead.

“One of the main reasons we chose to take up UC Divest is because we saw that AFSCME [3299] was really, really agitated about UC Divest issues,” Ilan said. “I’d go on Twitter and see AFSCME’s Twitter account saying, ‘we hate Blackstone, we hate the UC for pitting our pensions on increasing cost-of-living.’”

When Ilan learned about UC Divest, it struck them as an effective strategy for triggering substantial change – both on a local level and in the UC system as a whole.

“It’s a tactic,” they said. “Students see the victories of the past and know that divestment campaigns do work. That’s why we took up this struggle.”

Iz Campos-Layne, an organizer with UC Divest and MKP, echoed Ilan’s confidence. 

“The UC has divested from [other industries] in the past. The UC has divested from private prisons. The UC divested from fossil fuel,” Campos-Layne said. “But in that same vein, the movement to divest from fossil fuel took nine years. It can be done, but it is a movement. It is not going to be some quick thing.”

Shortly before entering Kerr Hall, Scott Brazier, an HVAC technician on campus, spoke to the crowd. He emphasized the difficulties of living and working in a housing market as hostile as Santa Cruz’s.

Above all else, the speeches insisted that a better life for workers and students at UCSC, sans exploitation, rent burden, and ties to violence overseas, is worth striving for.

“We love to be here and support you,” he told the students in the crowd. “We want to make sure you have the infrastructure, that you’ve got water and you’ve got warm places to sleep. In order to do that, we need to be able to live where we work.”

Joss Borys, Mia Cassidy, and Mylah Ellis contributed additional reporting.