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It's the Most Striking Time of the Year

The holiday season is typically lauded for it’s traditional good cheer and generosity of spirit. Yet over the past few months, as the days have shortened, we’ve seen a scourge of Scrooge-like miserliness from the most fortunate in our society, trying to squeeze extra profits from struggling workers. Thankfully, this selfishness has been met with a wave of solidarity from the would-be exploited.

America runs on caffeine, making baristas an essential part of many people's workdays. Frequently, however, we see major coffee chains, like Starbucks underpay, and overwork their employees, belittling the vital work they do. As a result, one of the most exciting developments to watch over the past year, was the inexorable wave of unionizations at over 260 Starbucks stores. Although it currently only represents a fraction of the 9000+ locations nationwide, as we covered earlier this year, the unionization drive has been resilient, creative, and inspiring in the face of withering, and often illegal anti-workerefforts, led by CEO Howard Schultz. Despite hundreds of stores holding successful votes to unionize, Starbucks is refusing to engage in new contract negotiations, and is punishing stores and workers exercising their right to unionize.

In response, Starbucks workers are engaging in escalating actions of solidarity, first with nearly 120 stores participating in a one-day walk-out last month, followed by a 3-day strike that concluded this past weekend. Workers are asking that shoppers refrain from buying Starbucks gift cards and coffee this holiday season in solidarity. Management has so far refused to budge, still seemingly hoping they can outlast this growing worker uprising.

When workers are united in a common cause, however, trying to outlast them can quickly become untenable, as the University of California recently learned facing down the largest ever strike of academic workers. Starting in early November, tens of thousands of teaching assistants, researchers, tutors, mentors, and postdoctoral scholars went on strike. Their demands sound quite familiar in 2022: higher pay, to combat inflation and rising costs of living, and improved benefits.

One would think that a major, state-run university would recognize and respect the value of its academic workers, however, it took nearly 5 weeks of striking, and shutting down classes, before the UC system agreed to increase workers minimum pay from ~$23,000 to ~$34,000 for 9 months work during the academic year! Wisely, looking at both their own experience, and that of other workers’ struggles, many of the unions will be continuing to hold the picket line, until the new contract has been signed and ratified.

This story is a sobering reminder that even non-profit organizations with clear missions beyond making profit are not necessarily on the side of workers, no matter their PR campaigns. However, it is also a hopeful tale, as it shows that people united can take action to outlast corporate behemoths, bringing them to the bargaining table by speaking the language they truly understand, money and power.

Solidarity, however, can be hard to maintain, especially as groups grow larger. As the examples above demonstrate, the fight for a fair and equitable workplace is long and arduous, often facing many setbacks and needing significant sacrifice from participants. Capital’s primary strategy is delay, hoping that by dragging out the process they can sap enthusiasm, and outlast the workers. To successfully change the status quo and bring capital to the table we need to build a sustainable, economic movement, which can credibly outlast the powers that be. By standing together each week in growing solidarity with workers and other marginalized groups, we can wield an economic cudgel that starts to level the playing field. So, join us each Tuesday, as we build this united protest movement into a force to be reckoned with on behalf of the American people!

Happy holidays and Don’t Shop on Tuesday!!

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