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Nov 22, 22

Strike Means Strike: Report Back from the UC Davis Barricades

Report back from UC Davis in so-called Davis, California about the setting up of barricades during the ongoing UAW strike.

What became a week-long blockade of the Memorial Union bus terminal started off as just an idea to do a banner drop.

One afternoon the weekend of the strike, our affinity group decided to make a radical banner for what we assumed (correctly) would be a mostly anti-militant strike. Although we did not have a clear cut plan, we knew we wanted to gesture toward ideas of attack and action, and inspired by phrases like “Queer Means Attack,” we decided on the slogan “Strike Means Strike.” Finding a long piece of fabric and some paint was all that was needed to make the banner, and we finished it in just one afternoon, with most of that time spent letting it dry.

It was not until we got to the picket line the next day that our plans changed. When we arrived, we realized that the picketers were marching on and around the street, but were not blocking it. We decided then that instead of doing a banner drop, we would hold the street that the picketers had failed to shut down. After unfurling the banner and deploying some A-frames with anti-police messaging (defunding campus police is one of the UAW’s demands), we were immediately threatened by UAW strike captains in yellow vests. They yelled about how this “wasn’t civil disobedience,” and how they “didn’t have the training for that yet.” We were harassed and they threatened to cut our banner, but we met them only with stern silence, not letting them move us back. They do not know how to respond to our silence, and we know that there is no use in debating them.

The union isolated us, moving the official picket away from our location and leaving us alone and exposed to potential danger from traffic. We kept us safe. Scabs tried repeatedly to break through our line with their cars, at some points nearly running us over, but we stood with each other and kept each other safe. Comrades brought bikes over to reinforce the line, someone brought their car over, and someone even brought over a sound system to keep morale up through radical music. The road block had shut down access to the MU bus terminal for the entire day.

Our presence was established, and by the second day, our blockade grew while the picket line shrank. Grad students disillusioned with their union’s leadership came to us to help support our efforts. The yellow vests quickly came to remove anyone trying to affiliate with us. Despite this, on the second day, the union responsible for providing food at the picket line, UPTE, moved their grill onto the street behind us in solidarity. We turned the street into a radical community space with chalking, music, and dancing. Some professors even joined their students in the sectioned off part of the street.

By the third day, our tactics were forced to change. The UAW, refusing to even be near us, coalesced their picket lines at another location. Left entirely alone, we decided to build a barricade in order to create a physical barrier against potential vehicle threats. We used an area of the street with a barrier already built in, an island with a sign on it, and we worked to build up and defend the other two spots. We moved heavy, steel, exercise equipment onto one side of the street, on which we fastened our banner, and on the other side, we set up rows of A-frames, bikes, and upside down trash cans. If a car got too close to our weaker side, the side without the big steel barricade, we’d need to move our bodies there as an additional deterrent.

By the fourth and final day (so far) of the blockade, we had learned that mass and cover were the most important considerations when constructing a barricade. We moved the big piece of athletic equipment again, covering it with a mesh in order to provide some level of visual cover. On the other side we moved another large piece of metal that bikes had been attached to earlier in the week and hitched a banner onto that. By the end of the day, we had also moved literal goalposts as well as a picnic table to reinforce that side. The barricade was so effective that we were able to leave a skeleton crew at that location, freeing up another crew to move across campus and shut down the other bus terminal using just their bikes.

The fifth day of the strike, even though no blockade was constructed, the bus system never went past the Memorial Union bus terminal because of their fear that we could return and block it at any moment.

We learned many things through this experience:

  • Build it, and they will come. Most of this action was spontaneous, and many of the people that we grew to know on the barricade were initially strangers to us. People are fed up with the union’s inability to fight. Every day, people would come to us asking us how they could help. Make friends through these spaces, and attack with them.
  • The importance of visual cover. Visual cover isn’t just important for making your barricade look imposing to cars, it can also help protect your identity. People love to film everything they can. We had umbrellas, but they frankly weren’t enough a lot of the time. Large banners can be lifted to hide people if they’re carried, or if they’re on a barricade people can duck behind it to cover their faces.
  • Certainty of Steel. The heavier and more intimidating an object, the better it is for the barricade. The less confident someone is they can break through a barricade without damaging their car, the better. That said, if you can’t find large objects, stack lots of bikes next to each other. Flip over empty trash cans so people don’t know they’re empty. Cover things up so people don’t know what’s there. If you decide to blockade with a car, cover up license plates and identifiable markers with newspapers and tape.
  • Flow like water. You do not need to repeat the same thing over and over again, and we would advise against it. Change your tactics over time. Attack different targets. See their choke points and take them over. Do not expose yourself more than necessary. Do not feel afraid to retreat if you need to, but do so in a safe controlled way. We chose a location that is impossible to kettle.

This coming Monday (11/21), we plan to revive the barricades at Davis and we hope to see more barricades erected at the other UC campuses. It only takes 8-10 people and some bicycles to shut down a whole block. Look for the most vulnerable choke points on your campus and strike. Roll out the bikes, stand out in the road, begin to fill in the barricade with anything that can be brought out into the streets, and let no vehicle pass.

To the choke points! Strike means Strike!

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