Speech to rally for social and economic justice

This is a speech I gave today at a rally in San Francisco put on by the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition. 

Greetings — I’m Russell Kilday-Hicks and I work in the 23-campus Calif. State University system. My union, the Calif. State University Employees Union, part of the Calif. State Employees Association and SEIU Local 2579, represents 16,000 of the non-faculty staff forming the backbone of the CSU.  We do the mostly invisible work of cleaning the floors and toilets, tending the gardens and cutting the grass, filing records, looking after student health, and running computers and offices that enable the faculty to teach and a university education to transform lives.


We’ve seen the CSU cut by well over half a billion dollars since 2003, with another 212 million dollars just this year. Each year different campuses take turns going into fiscal crisis and start cutting programs and classes and hemorrhaging faculty and staff. Meanwhile, with the backdrop of Chancellor Reed playing violin, the trustees make deals in the back room to make sure CSU executives can afford a vacation home, or a yacht, or however the well-to-do spend labor’s wealth. Meanwhile, the students and their families are paying double the fees of just three years ago and each year threatens more increases, and the CSU can’t even come close to meeting demand, turning away tens of thousands of qualified students, and those in classes can’t get the courses they need to graduate — harder to get in and harder to get out is the new CSU creed. Meanwhile, we who run this place are expected to take on more students every year with fewer resources. In old-fashioned labor terms this would be called a factory speedup.


The workers and students are suffering the effects of a starved system, true, but the ones who ultimately suffer are all of us, the entire State of California. Every fee hike is making that door to opportunity a little harder to open. The citizens of California need to understand that cutting funds to the CSU is the very opposite of what needs to be done in hard economic times. Our higher education system is what made California a leader in the world and we are being told there is no money to continue to invest in our future. There’s plenty of money for illegal invasions and occupations, financial bailouts, and new prisons — this is certainly someone’s twisted dream of a future, but it need not be ours.


Education is a right not a privilege.  Work with me to restore California’s commitment to our collective future. A free public education is not unfair competition for the so-called for-profit University of Phoenix. A free public education is a necessity for our times and for restoring hope in our youth and real profit for us all instead of society’s wealth for just a few.  


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