The 1966 student strike led by SDS over a Naval ROTC table in the Student Union

Who struck

 

In 1966 a student strike was conducted at UC Berkeley from December 1, 1966 through December 5.  The strike was over a set of demands related to the presence of recruiters for US Naval ROTC at a table in the Student Union.  The strike was initiated by the campus chapter of the Students For a Democratic Society (SDS), and apparently received some support by the campus local of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and by the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC). 

Prior history: the FSM free speech victories of 1964-65

 

In 1965 the Free Speech Movement achieved important victories in the decades-long conflict between student political organizations and the University administration.  The FSM was able to win two major changes in administration policies related to student political activities on campus:  1) Rallies were to be permitted on the Sproul Hall (administration building) steps and Sproul Plaza, without regulation of content (political or non-political) and 2) Student organizations could set up tables in designated campus locations, distribute political material and recruit students, without regard to political content.  Permits were to be required, but with no more than two days notice.  These big changes in policy were the result of months of FSM sit-ins at Sproul Hall and approximately 800 student arrests.  These changes had been agreed to in principle by the administration, but rules and regulations were needed. 

 

FSM and the Kerr Directives, 1964

 

UC President Clark Kerr was generally sympathetic to the students' demands for freedom of speech and assembly, but he also had to respond to the people that paid his salary: the Regents.  He had previously developed a set of rules governing student political activity on campus that came to be known as the "Kerr Directives."   The overall effect of the directives was to codify the restrictions on student political activity that had been applied somewhat inconsistently in the past by the Regents and the administration.  The Directives became a major bone of contention during the FSM movement and strike on campus.  These directives and the University policies they supported needed to be modified or scrapped if the FSM's victory was to actually be implemented.   

 

Changes in the FSM and SLATE

 

The FSM had ended its massive, disruptive protests without obtaining a written, binding agreement with the administration.  When Mario Savio quit the FSM in 1965 he had criticized its organization and leadership as "too undemocratic."  The FSM became fragmented and was unable to make plans for monitoring and enforcing its victories.  In addition, SLATE was in the process of dissolving, as its role as a liberal umbrella for student campus political activity became less relevant.  It seemed that the frenzy of political activity on campus was coming to a natural end, as campus radicals felt that they had accomplished a feat greater than simply  changing the rules at Berkeley:  they had succeeded in starting a nationwide student revolution

 

Kerr and his Directives post FSM

 

Kerr took advantage of the lull in progressive student activity  to formulate a revision of the Kerr Directives, with input from the administration and the faculty, but not the students.  California's political landscape was changing.  The public backlash against UC Berkeley's "dirty mess" became a deciding factor in the race for California Governor.  Reagan's outspoken condemnation of the UC student radicals and their "permissive" administration was effective in winning him the election.  Kerr's revision of the Directives meant that students' civil rights had been expanded somewhat, but old and new restrictions remained, which limited their effectiveness.  

The events on November 30, 1966 that led to the student strike

 

The ROTC table:  On November 30, 1966, U.S. Navy ROTC recruiters set up a table in the Student Union, with the permission of the University Administration.  The Student Union was nominally under the control of the ASUC, and that organization had not granted ROTC permission to set up the table.  The administration's rules actually forbade all such tables in the Union and students were quick to insist that if ROTC could set one up, so could anyone else.   

 

The anti-draft table:.  At this point, the campus chapter of Students For a Democratic Society (SDS), a group that was trying to gain influence, provoked a dangerous confrontation  which quickly escalated into a near riot.  The group chose to take immediate action against the Naval ROTC table without a thought-out plan.  An anti-draft table was set up right next to the ROTC table.  Unsurprisingly, tempers flared and a fistfight broke out between fraternity supporters of the ROTC table and a group of students and non-students.  Tables and literature were trashed and someone called the Alameda County Sheriffs.

 

Vice-Chancellor Boyd appears:  UCB Vice-Chancellor Boyd arrived on the chaotic scene and spoke with some self-appointed protest leaders inside the Union.  The police arrested Mario Savio (a non-student) and approximately 8 others.  Chaos ensued in which the some of the SDS members identified themselves as student leaders who wanted to negotiate immediately with Boyd.  They pressed Boyd for release of those arrested and for clarification and enforcement of the administrations rule against non-student tables in the Student Union. 

Boyd explained that he was not in a position to negotiate on the spot for the administration and offered to meet with a small, organized group of students in his office.  A loud, contentious argument ensued in which it was unclear who was representing who among the protesters.   Boyd left the "discussion" to talk to the police on the scene.

While Boyd was gone, a set of five demands was formulated by the groups "leaders," which included SDS members.  When Boyd returned, he said that he knew of no reason that the students could not set up a table in the lobby of the Student Union next to the Naval ROTC table.  Boyd added to the tense atmosphere by informing the protesters that the assembly inside the Union was  "unlawful" and asked everyone to leave. 

The crowd outside the Student Union:  While the demonstrators inside the Student Union were meeting and discussing, a spontaneous crowd of upwards of  2000 had coalesced outside the Union, drawn by reports of police and arrests on campus.  Late in the afternoon, the large outside crowd moved into the Student Union's Pauley Ballroom.  The crowd in Pauley attempted to discuss what was going on, but the lack of any organized leadership or contact with the SDS-led crowd made it impossible.  The demonstrators and their "leaders" on the floor below came upstairs and joined the crowd in Pauley.  A meeting was then held to discuss the day's events and to decide what to do next.  The SDS' leaders' demands were presented and agreed to by the assembled crowd as representing the demands to be put forward in a proposed student strike.  At 1 AM a strike vote was taken, which was passed overwhelmingly by the combined crowd of over 2000.  The strike was planned to start later that morning.

The strike flares and then fizzles:

 

The strike lasted from December 1 through December 5.   At least one mass rally was held in the Plaza (see photos) and flyers were created, banners made and information boards put up to keep the campus informed of the strike's actions and "progress."   However, there was a major disconnect between the administration, the SDS-lead Strike Committee, the mass of unorganized students, and the campus AFT local.  Most classes continued to be held during the strike and the majority of the 30,000 students at UCB went to class.  Participation dwindled over the weekend and the strike was officially called off on December 6.   The strike did not settle any of the issues brought up by it's hastily drafted demands.

 

What was learned:  If the strike proved anything, it was that, without organization and planning, mass action on a free speech issue that  was not of concern to a large number of students could not be organized effectively.  This was especially true since the freedom of UCB's students to organize and act politically had basically been established, even though groups occasionally had to jump bureaucratic hurdles .  In addition, the attention of students was in the process of turning toward the draft and the war in Vietnam.  

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Strikers encouraging students entering Dwinelle Hall to join the boycott of classes

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Strike rally in Sproul Plaza.  The show of hands seems to indicate support for the strike

Strike meeting in the basement of the Engineering Building - tell me their names if you know them

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Student crowd leaving strike rally and passing through Sather Gate

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Strike banner on the Steps of Wheeler Auditorium in the rain

Picket sign protesting cops on campus

Creating silk-screen designs for strike posters

Strike posters were printed on whatever paper was available - in this case computer printouts

Strike information was available at tables set up throughout the campus, in this case in the Engineering Building

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Some Teaching Assistants ("TAs`) stopped teaching their seminars and urged students not to cross their picket line at the Life Sciences Building 

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Some strike banners looked good in photographs but did little to keep students from attending classes.  This is in front of Dwinelle Hall, the building where a number of undergraduate classes were conducted.