No contract, no coffee: Starbucks baristas strike, demand bargaining / by Mark Gruenberg

Starbucks baristas on strike in Memphis, Tenn. | via @Un1onBarbie on Twitter

In Seattle, Starbucks baristas at CEO Howard Schultz’s home store, The Roastery, brought Scabby the Rat to their picket line. Chants and signs from coast to coast—including in crayon on a Baltimore County, Md., car—declared: “No contract, no coffee!”

At an unidentified Starbucks, Santa had to strike: “Even my elves are in unions!” he said in a film clip. “Shame on you, Mr. Schultz.”

At the Starbucks store at Ashland Ave. and Irving Park Road on Chicago’s North Side, so many customers honored the picket line that at 11 a.m. on Dec. 16—the first day of a 3-day nationwide forced strike—managers closed the store.

“Who shut it down? We shut it down!” the exuberant picketers shouted via bullhorn.

“SHAME ON STARBUCKS” read a big bedsheet banner during what participants called “mega picketing” at three Starbucks St. Louis stores. Minnesota participants, joined by members of the Communist Party club there, thronged to the picket line, despite typical Minnesota December temperatures, even at midday: 5 degrees below zero.

Scabby the Rat on the picket line at the Starbucks Roastery story in Seattle. | Starbucks Workers United Seattle

And in Ithaca, N.Y., at a store the giant chain keeps threatening to close—in retaliation for unionizing—workers added a song for their Jewish customers, just before Chanukah began, sung to the children’s tune of Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel:

“Union, union, union

A fair contract we say.

And if we don’t get it,

We will strike all day.”

The object of all this activity: To force Starbucks’ bosses back to bargaining with the workers who have unionized at 260-plus of the monster coffee chain’s stores since the grassroots organizing drive—aided by Starbucks Workers United (SWU), a Service Employees affiliate—achieved its first success in Buffalo just over a year ago.

The three-day forced strike #DoubleDownPicketing on the weekend of Dec. 16-19 was the latest effort by the workers to get the bosses to bargain in good faith, despite CEO Schultz. There were two short sessions in late October.

In the first, lasting about five minutes, the workers barely began to present proposals when the bosses’ union-buster called a caucus and led management in a walkout. They never came back. The second was even shorter: Bosses refused to talk because hundreds of Starbucks workers nationwide had tuned in via Zoom.

The weekend action, which SWU described as the longest against the giant coffee chain, showed yet again that Starbucks baristas, like other underpaid and overworked workers—especially in fast food eateries, coffee shops, and bars—have had it up to here with corporate exploitation and greed, and have taken to unionizing and to the streets, in response.

They join port truckers, retail workers, adjunct professors, museum workers, Amazon workers, and warehouse workers—among others in a mass movement agitating for union recognition, better pay, safer working conditions and respect on the job, in numbers infrequently seen in decades, and certainly not coast to coast. But that’s what happened here.

They also got wide public support—despite a few “brew your own coffee remarks”—from the Twitterverse.

St. Louis Starbucks workers on the mega-picket line. | via @CMRJB on Twitter

“Switching up my routine to support@SBWorkersUnited,” one tweet said. “This #Union brother won’t cross picket lines. #BoycottStarbucks Solidarity is more than just a word, it’s a conscious action that requires commitment. Be an active part of the #StarbucksStrike. Retweet in #Solidarity.”

“SCABS TRIED TO SLOW US DOWN AND WE CAME BACK STRONGER,” another reported. “#DoubleDownStrike #NoContractNoGiftCards #NoContractNoCoffee #SBWU #UnionStrong.”

“Those big executives that are sitting up in their offices picking their noses all day are about to find out real fast who actually runs the company,” a third tweeter commented.

The strikers picked up heavyweight intellectual backing, too, of a sort. A new study from the Harvard Business School of the nation’s 250 largest corporations, listing the 50 best for workers on various quality of life issues—not just pay, but benefits, diversity, and opportunities for advancement—showed Starbucks was second to last in its category, retail. Only McDonald’s was worse.

“Starbucks earned one of the lowest ratings in the study, placing it in the bottom 50 of the surveyed companies, beneath brands with notably poor reputations for worker treatment including Walmart and Dollar General,” the news story on the study adds. The study didn’t distinguish between unionized and non-unionized firms.

Starbucks’ exact finish in the multifactor rankings could not be determined, from the confusing way it posted its findings. But another pro-worker group posted the survey anyway, noting in irony the Howard Schultz Foundation—yes, the CEO’s non-profit—financed it. The overall #1? AT&T, which is unionized.

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).

People’s World, December 20, 2022,

Railroad struggle reminds us, interfering in the right to strike is never okay / by Carl Wood

Joe Shearer/The Daily Nonpareil/AP

Yes, a strike of railroad workers could bring the national economy to a halt, including stopping the flow of millions of dollars a day in profits to the railroad companies. But let’s keep in mind that it’s big business —not workers—that has crashed the nation’s economy at least three times in recent memory. There was the dot com bubble, driven by venture capitalists in 2002. In the Great Recession of 2008, it was the subprime loan industry. And this year monopoly price gouging—especially in the oil industry—is inflicting inflation pain on the nation. In none of these cases did Congress act against the culprits.

It’s never been clearer who the ruling class of this country is than when Congress and the president respect big business’s rights but are quick to sacrifice those of workers.

The fact that a strike by railroad unions—collective action by more than 100,000 workers—will impact the economy, including bosses’ profits, is exactly their leverage. Isn’t that what a strike is all about? Being denied the right to strike is like being put in a boxing ring and the referee saying you have to keep our hands at your sides and you’re not allowed to punch, but your opponent has no restrictions.

This isn’t the first time that the railroad industry has used government power against the workers. Railroads are the oldest U.S. monopoly, going back over a century-and-a-half, and they are still crucial to the economy. There is a long history of attempts of the workers to organize and of government interventions.

Prior to legislation in the 1920s and ‘30s, the usual forms of government intervention were injunctions and armed repression by state militias, the National Guard, federal troops, and private goons protected by all of the above. A lot of this is recounted in the book Labor’s Untold Story, which details the smashed railroad strikes of 1877 and 1894.

In 1946, and again in 1950, President Harry Truman issued executive orders and signed emergency legislation overriding the guaranteed right to negotiation (after a lengthy cooling-off period) contained in the Railway Labor Act.

Most of the important rail strikes in this country’s history occurred during economic downturns, when labor was at a disadvantage anyway. What’s different about 2022 is that there is a tight labor market, for once creating a favorable negotiating environment for workers. That makes “even-handed” government intervention all the more pernicious and intrinsically anti-labor. No wonder the railroad corporations immediately embraced Biden’s call for anti-strike legislation, while most union leaders did not.

Fascist danger

Nevertheless, it’s hard to discount concerns about the political ramifications of the economic disruption that would result from a rail strike in today’s political scene where fascism is a real threat.

Fascism is now embodied in the Republican Party, which represents the most extreme and dangerous elements of finance capital, powered by racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. The capitalist forces in this array include oil and coal, arms and prison industries, and the biggest transnational monopolies. Through their financial networks of banks, venture capitalists, hedge funds, and tech monopolies, they control and profit from big segments of the economy—including the railroad industry, the nation’s most profitable industry with a 50% profit margin.

The fascist danger is always on the agenda with regard to electoral issues: it’s hard to contemplate doing anything that would strengthen the MAGA forces in the political field. But for forces in the anti-MAGA coalition to side with the big corporations on such an important workers rights issue is itself going to create divisions in the anti-fascist forces.

The problem is that Biden’s position to deny workers’ right to strike actually makes the fascist danger greater. Why? Because it increases working-class disenchantment and cynicism, particularly—but not only—among the youth.

Progressive pro-worker legislators, who constitute a strong and growing—but far from majority—influence, are between a rock and a hard place on this.

No substitute for a negotiated contract

Senator Bernie Sanders’ proposal to add seven days sick leave to the imposed contract was a useful initiative that workers’ rights supporters could rally around. But it is not a substitute for a negotiated contract ratified by the affected workers. Sanders’ proposal passed the House as a separate bill but it failed in the Senate while the anti-strike legislation passed.

There’s a need for cleareyed, unambiguous partisanship. After all, political alliances are based on issues, and on this one the working class has a fundamental issue with cancelling the right to strike.

We’ve got to defend the working class. However, to defend the class is more than attacking corporate Dems: We’ve got to continually raise the issue of building the movement. Had there been more pressure on the ground, Biden and Pelosi would never have dared to impose this settlement, as seen by Pelosi’s about face after Sanders’ and others’ pushback.

Still on the table is the fundamental principle that interfering with the right to strike—whether it’s by the troops, courts, or legislation—can never be an option.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.

Carl Wood is a retired union leader and a member of the Labor Commission of the Communist Party.

People’s World, December 2, 2022,