May 17, 2009 marks five years since baristas at a Starbucks in New York City announced their membership in the Industrial Workers of the World and launched a campaign open to employees throughout the company. A worker-led organizing effort with the legendary IWW at the world’s largest coffee chain could have been a flash in the pan– brilliant and inspiring, but brief. But a fire was lit and a movement began. The idea that Starbucks workers could organize themselves and speak in their own voice, independent of company executives and union bureaucrats, could not be restrained.
The bosses did their best to defeat us, to bury any indication of our existence under a heap of lies and retaliatory firings. They tried to stamp us out, even as the campaign for secure jobs and a living wage burst from New York into Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and beyond.
While Starbucks used the economic crisis as a pretext for an all-out assault on our already meager standard of living, our struggle gained momentum this year amidst a stark decline of the company’s brand and widespread store closures. Baristas around the country and around the world made the decision to organize and fight back against severe cuts in work hours, chronic under staffing, and a new “Optimal Scheduling” program which forces many workers to be available to Starbucks for over 80 hours a week without being guaranteed a single work hour.
This journey has been full of set-backs and tests of will. Progress has been made yet much remains to be done. But one thing is certain: our voice for dignity is firmly planted and our union’s future is bright.
The biggest battles remain ahead, but every day our ranks deepen. We are confident in our solidarity and could not be more proud to be associated with our fellow workers across the IWW and like-minded unionists around the world. This year, courageous baristas in Chile became the first Starbucks workers in Latin America to raise a union banner.
The corporate-controlled economic, social, and political model has been exposed everywhere as a failure for working families. And everyday workers are bolder and more assertive in the fight against injustice and exploitation. The notion that democracy has no place at work has been exposed as a lie.
To every worker who loves liberty: this is our time!
Together we organize. Together we struggle. Together we win!