This column was originally published in Partisan issue no. 22, printed January 2007.
An essential part of the California "Master Plan for Higher Education," passed while the first Governor Brown was in office, was tuition-free higher education for California residents.
I attended the University of California for six years, 1964-1970: three years undergraduate (I transferred from City College of San Francisco after one year there) and three years in law school. While inflation over the past 35-40 years makes the cost in today's terms a few times higher, the difference is nevertheless amazing.
For that entire six years, the fees payable to the University -- which included health insurance -- was $220.00 per year. This did not include room and board, textbooks, or the like. Just the fees to the University. Today, the cost (again, not including room & board, textbooks, etc. but again including health insurance) for an undergraduate at UC Berkeley is $7,800 per year and the cost at the School of Law is $25,477 per year.
While more financial aid may be available today than was the case then, it is almost all in the form of loans, so a student like me would graduate with about $100,000 in debt -- debt nondischargable in bankruptcy. It would have meant that I would not have been able to pursue a low-income career serving low-income people, and while there are legal services programs, they are totally inadequate to serve the needs of low or even middle income working class people. California provided essentially free public education when I was young. California could do it again. What it needs to do so is a fair system of taxation that looks to the wealthy to pay their share.
130 years ago in 1877 was the first national general strike in the history of the US. The railroad barons cut their workers' wages 10%, and workers, including African-Americans and Native American Indians, rebelled throughout the country. This rebellion, that started in Pennsylvania, even led to the "St. Louis Commune" in Missouri, and the capitalists were afraid that the Paris Commune of 1871 would be repeated in the US. President Hayes used troops to crush the rebellion.
In California there were protests and strikes in Oakland and San Francisco. Unfortunately, the San Francisco actions included anti-Chinese riots. Just as today, immigrant workers were used as scapegoats in a time of crisis.
Steve Zeltzer, San Francisco