Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Starbuck's Union Rep speaking in Toronto - April 18th

Pete Montelbano and Dyamite Plan are coming up to Toronto soon. I know Pete, I met him a year ago, when he last came up to visit. He lives in New York, celebrates Easter with his folks, and is driving up to see us in Toronto on April 18th. Dynamite Plan? - they’re a rap group. Pete and a couple of work buddies are Dynamite Plan. Never heard Pete rap, but I've heard him talk, and he has an important story to tell. Important for all workers.

Maybe they’ll rap about Starbucks. One thing you should know about Pete and his buddies - they work in Starbucks, and three years ago they got that big corporate mother to hand out three big raises to them, and reinstate workers who they’d fired. Maybe they’ll rap about that, but they’ll definitely talk about it.

They’re baristas in a Starbucks store in New York. Like thousands of others in the U.S., Canada, and, I bet, by now, Beijing. But unlike most baristas working for Starbucks and other coffee stores they got the company to do something they usually don’t like to do: give them large raises and reinstate staff they didn’t want around.

So, the question is: How’d they do it? Let me give you some clues. Pete and friends will fill in the gaps. They got together, they publicized the facts - Starbucks, one of the richest corporations in the world was paying wages lower than smaller outfits. Some Starbucks managers were picking on workers. Starbucks health benefits and fair trade coffee appeared more often in their media releases than they did among workers, or customers.

Steve and friend raised a stink. One day in the fall of 2005 80 people gathered in front of an East Village Starbucks in New York and yelled at the company to pay fair wages and reinstate workers who’d been fired. Starbucks workers each told their story to the press. Some customers going in to the store stopped and talked.

And a little while later, all the Union Square Starbucks workers got raises and some who were fired got their jobs back. With little money and no high priced labour lawyers Pete and friends were able to make an ultra rich corporation do what they were asking for. Or some of it. The rest I’ll leave to Pete and friends to fill in.

But one thing I can say, the union had something to do with it. You see, Starbucks Union Square workers are part of the Starbucks’ Workers’ Union and they use a model called “solidarity unionism” to get their message across to companies, who usually don’t want to hear it. And it works without money. What it takes is commitment and work. Solidarity unionism is about workers helping workers to get what they want from employers.

Working in retail food or café yourself, or know someone who does? Or just interested in getting better deals for staff in the new retail workplaces where so many of us are working these days?

You can hear Pete at a panel on "Organizing 21st Century Workers" at the 519 Community Centre (Church @ Wellesley) on Friday, April 19th. They're also be speakers from the Workers Action Centre and Toronto workplaces. Things start at 8pm. Hope to see you there. And tell your friends.

For more information about the Starbucks Workers Union go to: http://www.starbucksunion.org/

A message from the Industrial Workers of the World - Toronto General Membership Branch.

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