Dec 2, 2022

Why are Some International Students Indifferent to UC labor Strike?

In the past three weeks, since November 14, when the UC labor strike began, I have noticed that only a few international students have joined our labor strike. A few times, I walked through the picket lines to see international students; one can determine with ease or guess from their accents, language, or appearance. There were some international students whom I knew personally but only a few. I conjectured that, given their legal status, they probably do not see themselves in an equal position to American students to participate or are worried about unanticipated or unimaginable consequences in supporting the strike. I also mused myself on the idea that maybe they work hard and are too busy, but then I challenged that assumption because we all are busy and work hard, yet we are determined to come out and fight for fair wages.

The other day I was walking down the steps of the engineering building south of campus at UCI, where the strike was taking place. I saw some familiar faces, but inevitably, I was reminded to look for a diverse presence, but I saw few international students. While picketing, I spoke with a fellow Ph.D. student, Sarah (pseudonym), and I shared my view with her, hoping to elicit a subtle understanding of why international students are absent. Questions popped up in my head, are they afraid of authorities? Are they indifferent to our cause? Are they satisfied with the status quo? What prevents them from joining the strike and embracing changes?

It was a little after 1:00 pm, the best time to seek sunlight, making autumn a favorite time of the year. I grabbed a cup of coffee from the table prepared by undergraduate students who have compassionately stood in solidarity with their TAs. I started walking back to Sarah, seated on the opposite end of one of those black metal benches without a backrest. As we warmed ourselves to the sunlight rays passing through leafless tree branches, I could hear strikers chanting, "If we don't get it, Shut it Down," What do we want? A Fair Contract." 

I asked Sarah if her cohort members were on strike. Surprisingly, she was the only one to walk off her job from her entire cohort in her department. Five other graduate students, mostly international students, refused to join the strike and continued teaching and grading students' work. I asked her whether they were afraid to join the strike. She said no, they were simply indifferent to the strike and when she asked them about the unfair wages and high cost of living conditions, she was told that they have no financial problem because they receive free groceries from Food Pantry on campus and, therefore, they do not see a reason to go on strike. She told me that she explained to them that if they obtain a better deal that allows them to receive a better wage, they do not need to rely on the food pantry and what if the food pantry does not exist any longer or is unable to supply groceries. She told me that she could not convince them.

Anyway, I wanted to share this here without making any judgments. I hope we better understand why some students are unwilling to join the strike, and knowing the reasons behind their indifference will help us understand that we are not all equal in our demands.