The UMass campus has been very quiet these past few months, but that all changed on Wednesday, June 17. That day, 100 cars and a dozen bicycles drove around campus, honking their horns each time they passed the Chancellor’s house. Cars were covered in signs with a variety of slogans such as “Put People First” and “Fund our Future.”
This was one of numerous Caravans against Austerity organized by local members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association as well as a coalition of workers called UMass Unions United, as part of a campaign to stop layoffs, preserve academic programs and campus jobs, open schools only when safe, and increase funding for public education.
Undergraduate student and union co-chair James Cordero added, “The UUU coalition stands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and urges Chancellor Subbaswamy and the UMass administration to make the campus more accessible to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color students, staff, and faculty.” This action follows months of bargaining between the unions and the UMass administration. The unions have just released a report by UMass economists, demonstrating that investing in public colleges and universities increases employment and tax revenues, strengthens the economy and saves the state money in both the short-run and long-run.
The UMass Caravan kicked off with a socially-distanced rally in a parking lot. The first speaker, Jules Bannister, an Assistant Director of Admissions and membership chair of the Professional Staff Union, read parts of an imaginary letter – the letter workers would like to receive from the UMass Trustees. It explains why there will be no layoffs, how the Trustees will fight for better funding from the thousands of millionaires and 17 billionaires in Massachusetts, and how they themselves – many of them millionaires – will contribute more to the University and use reserves meant for a rainy day to help fund the University.
Other speakers from various unions echoed these themes, pointing out how essential staff and faculty are to students, their families and the Commonwealth, and that a safe reopening would require more, rather than fewer, staff. Professor Michael Ash, co-author of a recent study showing that the economic benefits of investment in public higher education are far greater than other investments or tax cuts, asserted that the state has a choice: a) suffer now and suffer later, or b) thrive now and thrive later. It was clear which was the preferred choice of Caravan participants.