No previous American university struggle has been as long, violent and bitter as the strike now being fought at San Francisco State College. None has sent shock waves through so much of the society, or created as deep a polarization. Only in American colonies and dependencies abroad, or in the history of American labour before the present generation of students was born, are there equals to this conflict. At S.F. State, history has not merely moved, it has leaped.

Although it is chronologically the successor to the great confrontation at Columbia in the spring of 1968, and to the smaller-scale crisis over Eldridge Cleaver at Berkeley in the fall of the same year, the S.F. State strike has few clear lines of continuity with the overt concerns of these or previous student movements of the 1960’s. The 1964 Berkeley Free Speech Movement’s preoccupations seem almost a gentlemen’s disagreement in comparison; free speech and the right to organize have not been issues here, although they have been brutally denied in the process. Direct ties between the university and the war corporations, the central overt issue at Columbia, are absent in significant proportions at State. The Cleaver crisis is a precendent only formally in that both he and George Murray at S.F. State are on the central committee of the Black Panther Party, and both were denied the right to teach. But Eldridge Cleaver was involved in teaching elite whites, whereas the struggle at State is about working class blacks. Except among white strike supporters, whose sense of political identity remains shadowy, there is little specific identification or sense of continuity, other than sympathy, with this history. Something different is happening here which requires some background by way of introduction.

The so-called public higher education system in California is united only at the top in the state government. Below, it runs in three separate channels. Highest is the university system, which accepts the topranking 12 per cent of high school graduates, has sole power to grant PhD’s and train for the professions, gives a more costly education, and costs more to attend. Berkeley is part of that system. Cheaper is the state college system, where the conflict is now. The colleges accept the top-ranked one-third of high school graduates, do not give higher than the m.a., spend less per student. The two-year junior colleges are the bottom track.

Half of the students in the university system come from homes where family income is over $12,000. In the college system, half come from over $10,000. That’s only a $2,000 difference, but it divides, for example, the unionized worker in a skilled trade (and his son or daughter) from his shop supervisor. Added to the difference between what the state spends at each place for facilities, equipment and staff, plus the difference in prestige, it amounts to a different universe.

The university system prepares for careers, the college system trains for jobs. The university graduate may become a professor, an executive, an official, a specialist. State colleges turn out teachers, accountants, functionaries, technicians.

Many of the jobs the state college system trains for are unionized, or becoming organized. Although the statistics do not show a predominance of students from industrial working-class families at the college, labour’s attitude toward the college system is more proprietary. These are the schools—not so much the upper-channel universities—where stable, unionized working families want to send their kids. And where they have a better—though still slim—chance of being admitted, and of being able to afford it.

The difference between the channels of the system accounts for part of the lack of continuity between S.F. State issues and the issues of previous student movements. Most of these have been at upper-channel universities or at even more elite small private liberal arts colleges. The different backgrounds, contexts and destinations of the students create a different political emphasis.