The news out of congress last week was grim, if predictable— the failure of the senate to suspend filibuster rules for voting rights legislation sounds like a death knell for the Pro Act. But against this backdrop of government inaction, grassroots labor organizing continues to spread, and to demonstrate the potential of new tactics.
The organizing wave across hundreds of Starbucks locations is a reason for optimism and action. After workers at the Elmwood Avenue Starbucks in Buffalo, NY won their union in December, employees in Seattle, Boston, and Chicago quickly filed for their own elections; inspired Starbucks workers nationwide sprung into action. Exact numbers are difficult to discern, but at least several dozen locations across fifteen states now await NLRB-administered votes. Hundreds of stores have reached out to Starbucks Workers United or to EWOC seeking support for their organizing campaigns.
For a company that tries to project a progressive image, offering employees carefully crafted aesthetics of workplace democracy without the thing itself, this is no doubt an unqualified code red. The campaigns still represent a small portion of the total Starbucks workforce, but wins are accumulating, and the movement continues to grow at an incredible pace. Starbucks worker-organizers are strategically engaging the media to inspire their comrades in other stores to action: it’s a novel strategy which, for now, is working marvelously.
The company has maintained that it will bargain in good faith with its newly unionized workforces— whether they will follow through on the promise remains to be seen. The Elmwood Avenue workers in Buffalo have stayed vigilant and remained militant: the staff walked off the job earlier this month over inadequate staff and equipment to work safely amid surging COVID-19 cases. Ultimately, organized workplaces with strong solidarity will be crucial. The labor fights ahead will require true rank-and-file militancy, even after the NLRB votes are won. Starbucks workers are showing us what that solidarity looks like.