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Seize the Beans!

Raise Your Voice

Seize the Beans!

By Peter Molenaar

On August 1, 2022, a two-day strike commenced at the corner of Cedar Avenue and 47th Street. Starbucks workers had coalesced in their newly formed union, Starbucks Workers United (SBWU, SEIU) to demand negotiations. Here is a taste of their colorful pickets: Seize the Beans of Production! LIVING WAGE NATION NOW! and Union Coffee Tastes Better!.

“This strike is a warning”, said strike captain Ethan Tinklenberg, “it sends a signal to management that we are capable of doing this.” We are told that management has systematically cut workers hours, changed opening and closing times, and has in recent memory, fired workers for resisting. Tinklenberg added: ”We are sick of management doing illegal things.”

Indeed, Starbucks founder and on-again/off-again CEO Howard Shultz has a history of anti-union behavior. Naturally, this fact found its reflection in several picket signs. Some examples: Wanted for Union Busting and Unfair Labor Practices: Howard Shultz, Billionaire! And Howard Shultz: You Have to Bargain in order to Bargain in Good Faith! Emily Mahoney from the bargaining committee put it this way: “If the bonus that Howard Shultz granted himself were divided equally among his employees, we would all receive about $5,000 extra per year, which would certainly help us pay our rent.”

When contacted for this article, Jen Lenz, an organizer with SBWU, was philosophical in her response. She stated: “It’s necessary to recognize that the Starbucks Workers United movement owes its success to those that came before it and those that will come after… it is one component of a larger [worker’s] movement.” To which she added: “It is also critical to acknowledge the United State’s complicity in the subjugation of the developing world, as the raw materials used in the production of Starbucks goods are derived from the labor of alienated workers in other countries.”

Yes, on the corner of Cedar Avenue and 47th Street, a precedent has been set. “As a result of our strike action, the morning shift has come to know the night shift,” Tinklenberg observed. Similarly, Mahoney noted, “My sense of unity with my co-workers is much more tangible now.” In Marxist terms, a youthful contingent has evolved beyond the stage of individualism to the level of ‘trade union consciousness’, and owing to labor solidarity, a degree of ‘class consciousness’ has developed as well. Subsequently, as the future unfolds, this corporate owned coffee shop will be franchised to worker’s co-operatives, while the procurement of coffee beans will remain centralized, but socialized and just. Howard Shultz, on the other hand, will be allowed to keep his fine house as a place of rest and meditation.

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