by Sam Skinner
This article was originally published in the September issue of Socialism Today! Subscribe here.
In mid-July, the Starbucks workers in Biddeford, Maine, joined the ranks of over 200 other recently organized Starbucks locations by winning their union vote, officially joining Starbucks Workers United (SBWU). Workers across the country have said no to unlivable wages, unsafe working conditions, and exploitation from a multimillion-dollar company that has seen soaring profits while its workers suffered through the pandemic and recession. In Biddeford, workers voted 9-3 for the union, laying the foundations to fight for a first contract. Members of ISG were proud to stand with these workers at an informational picket just days before the union vote.
Starbucks workers aren’t just fighting back in Maine–as reported in past editions of Socialism Today, Starbucks workers across the country are organizing for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. In Massachusetts, workers at several unionized Starbucks locations held a one-week strike in solidarity with Starbucks workers in Brookline who went out on an indefinite strike against Starbucks union busting at their store. After the Brookline workers successfully unionized, a new manager was brought to their location. To try and break the union, this manager reportedly harassed workers and refused to schedule workers for enough hours to make a living.
ISG has proudly stood on the picket line with these striking Starbucks workers, from the solidarity strike we supported at a unionized Starbucks location in Worcester, MA, to the ongoing strike in Brookline, where ISG members are visiting almost daily. In addition to adding numbers to the picket in Brookline, ISG members have tabled and leafletted throughout Boston, helping draw attention and solidarity to the struggle of the striking Starbucks workers. Watch our interview with a striking Starbucks worker on our website for more on the Brookline strike.
ISG has supported unionizing Starbucks workers since their organizing effort began. Back in February, when unionizing Starbucks workers in Tennessee were illegally fired to prevent the unionization effort at their store, ISG members participated in a rally in Boston to demand that these workers be rehired. In late August, the courts finally ruled that Starbucks’ actions were illegal and that these workers must be rehired. While this decision is welcomed, the length of time it took for this obvious case of union busting to be ruled on shows us why workers cannot rely on the National Labor Relations Board or the capitalist court system in general. Organized struggle by rank-and-file union members and workers in the form of mass protests, informational pickets, strikes, or occupations are crucial to developing a mass movement to fight against union busting, to build the labor movement, and to win immediate gains in wages, benefits, and working conditions needed to survive the daily exploitation and attacks on our living standards under capitalism.
ISG will continue to support the striking Brookline Starbucks workers for as long as their strike continues. We call for other unions and workers to join the Brookline Starbucks workers on the picket line and to put forward that their unions take solidarity action with the striking workers. Further coordinated action must be taken against Starbucks by SBWU. As long as strikes are confined to a few individual stores in different cities, with some strikes ending while others begin, Starbucks will be able to dig into their vast reserves and wait out the workers. A nationally coordinated strike is necessary–a strike which will require discussion and planning among the various rank-and-file members of the stores organized in SBWU, as well as having members, other unions, and supporters commit to active solidarity actions and to donate money to the SBWU strike fund so that workers will have the support they need while on strike.
The union organizing efforts, the protests, and the strikes at Starbucks are great steps forward for our unions. It’s also necessary to recognize that huge corporations have massive amounts of money and the political control of the two corporate political parties to try and stop the recent increase in union organizing and strikes. Our unions need to stop supporting either of the two corporate parties and instead put union resources into helping form a mass independent working-class party that will help unite the struggles of various unions. Such a party could beat back the union-busting corporations like Starbucks and Amazon, organize mass unionization drives, fight for union contracts and also the labor movement joining the fight for social benefits like mass public transit, universal healthcare, and debt cancellation that would immediately help working-class people.