- posted 11 years ago
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
“The Starbucks Problem” Friday, February 13 2009 @ 08:58 AM CST Contributed by: WorkerFreedom Fire Your Boss
Last month, anonymous sources posted a secret conference call hosted by Bank of America on the website Wikileaks.org.
The leaked audio file provides the public with a rare window into the paranoid and anxiety-ridden conscience of the corporate elite. On the call, Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus, corporate executives, right-wing activists, and notorious anti-union lobbyist Rick Berman rail against the possibility of a revitalized labor movement, with Marcus referring to unionization of retail as the “demise of a civilization.” One participant coins the term the “Starbucks Problem,” referring to the possibility that workers will simply form their own unions, rather than waiting for the lethargic union establishment to initiate organizing drives.
The conference call was prompted by the potential passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). If it passes, EFCA will change US labor law to require employers to bargain with a union if 50%+1 of the workforce in any workplace sign union authorization cards. This would replace the current process, which creates delays of several weeks between the signing of authorization cards and an NLRB-supervised election, leaving the bosses plenty of time to fire or intimidate union supporters.
Many trade unionists pin their hopes for a revitalized labor movement on the passage of EFCA. They hope that card-check provisions, combined with stiffer penalties for union-busting will allow them to sign up millions of new members in the service industry. Of course, requiring employers to bargain does nothing to ensure the internal democracy or power of the new union. The Industrial Worker, newspaper of the Industrial Workers of the World, recently published a particularly lucid expression of this critique.
If Corporate America is anxious about the growth of the Change to Win or the AFL-CIO unions, it was clear from this conference call that “The Starbucks Problem” leaves them absolutely terrified. In a tone verging on hysteria, one executive on the call worried that proactive groups of workers will simply start their own unions, as we have done at Starbucks with the help of the Industrial Workers of the World.
Of course, the IWW has been organizing at Starbucks since long before EFCA was a glimmer in the AFL-CIO’s eye. We know that workers don’t need professional staff, expensive lawyers, or government recognition to organize an independent voice on the job. What the corporate elites call “The Starbucks Problem”, we call “Solidarity Unionism.” And whether EFCA passes or not, we will continue building solidarity with our coworkers, making demands, and winning gains for workers at even the largest corporate chains.
With or without the Employee Free Choice Act, the “Starbucks Problem” is going to get a lot bigger than Starbucks.
February 13, 2009