By Jon Gill
What feels better than solidarity?
Across the country, workers at Starbucks stores are going public with their intent to unionize. The rate at which store after store files for petition is spreading like wildfire. The level of passion, determination, and confidence that rank and file baristas and shift supervisors have in this movement is powerful and inspiring. Not only are workers organizing with their coworkers to demand better conditions, they are communicating nationally, helping new stores with the pitfalls common to union struggle, and showing unwavering solidarity.
I’m a barista on the organizing committee of the University & Main store in Peoria, Illinois. Our experience here has been both a product of this struggle and an active part of the emerging movement. There’s an interdependent relationship between the worker, their store, and the entire Starbucks workforce. As we progress in our store’s unionization efforts, we talk and learn with workers around the country. This sort of worker self-organizing both radicalizes the people involved, showing them their own power as workers, and makes us a more effective labor movement.
When we act collectively we create the strength we need to make the changes in our workplace that our managers won’t. We create democracy in a workplace that until now (and until we win our contract) has been completely top-down. The best option we have right now is to appeal to our management, to hope that they listen to us, and to hope that change comes. Management constantly tells us that this means they care, that we have a ‘voice.’ But until we organize, and work together for our own interests, we have no voice. Only together can we create change.
The only way I can describe being a part of this is joy. It’s genuinely fun! Ever since our store formed an organizing committee and began building the worker power needed to go public, we’ve become closer as coworkers and as friends. Sharing music and books and stories during informal meetings, joining calls with workers from around the country, and on and on. We can feel the energy and excitement that is driving more and more stores to join us. It’s one of the few times where you feel like the future is open, and anything we can fight for is possible. It’s not often that we feel as though we can change the world around us.
We aren’t just many individual workers, or even individual stores. We are Starbucks workers, collectively, who produce all the value that Starbucks has. We produce the “customer experience” that is so central to the Starbucks ethos. We are taught that we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make our own way, without anyone’s help. Most working class people learn from experience that that is the furthest from the truth. Nothing happens in isolation. No one ‘makes it’ on their own. We all depend on each other every day. Howard Shultz and Kevin Johnson depend on every worker they employ every day to make the money that lines their deep pockets. And we have to depend on each other if we’re going to shift the power balance in that “partnership.”
This movement so far has shown that we can shift that power balance.We can see now – when we organize and act collectively, we are the ones with power. From our store, to the whole of Starbucks, to the whole of society. It’s clear now that nothing is set in stone. Working people acting together can remake the world.
I’m proud to discover that power with my fellow baristas. To turn Starbucks’s mission on its head (“to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time”), our mission as working people should be “to build solidarity – one worker, one store, one district at a time.” When we build that solidarity on a national level, we become the ones who hold the power.