Sat, Dec 2nd, 2023
We Are the Revolution: The National March on Washington to Free Palestine
by Gregory Lebens-Higgins
How dare they call us “children of darkness.”
We are liberation.
We are enlightenment.
We are moral clarity. – Mohammed el-Kurd
On Saturday November 4, 2023, tens of thousands of people (estimates are as high as 300,000) converged on the nation’s capital in the largest pro-Palestine march in U.S. history. The National March on Washington to Free Palestine was organized by a coalition of anti-war and pro-Palestinian groups and endorsed by hundreds of organizations, including DSA.
For weeks, our own rallies in Rochester had grown from tens of people to hundreds, as the reality of the situation in Gaza set in. Now, the masses gathered in D.C. demonstrated the gathering strength of the movement. While there have been previous pro-Palestine marches on the nation’s capital, the largest was estimated at 35,000.
I arrived in D.C. on Saturday morning with a group from ROC DSA. We were welcomed by the sight of Palestinian flags in the hands of those wandering the streets or exploring monuments prior to the event. Stepping into a nearby café, we found many of its occupants wearing keffiyehs.
The atmosphere in Freedom Plaza was somber but comradely. It was a comfort to be among others unable to remain silent to the horrors we are seeing. The opportunity to challenge this madness, by raising our voices in the seat of power, promised cathartic release.
It was a diverse crowd—in race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality—but predominated by the youth. The popularity of the Palestinian Youth Movement and National Students for Justice in Palestine, along with growing Palestinian solidarity across U.S. campuses, signals eroding support for Israeli apartheid and a future of opposition.
A Union of Movements
The March also represented a diversity of causes, but with a unity of mission: to dismantle structures of U.S. imperialism. Speakers from Indigenous, Black, feminist, and international justice movements described their struggles and expressed solidarity with that of the Palestinians.
The legacy of the U.S. government, charged Mohammed Nabulsi of the Palestinian Youth Movement, “includes slavery and Jim Crow, genocidal campaigns against the indigenous people of this land, genocidal campaigns against the people of the global South, from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan,” and support for fascist dictatorships and right-wing coups. Military and moral support for Israel’s genocide is a continuation of this bloody history.
Krystal Two Bulls of Honor the Earth, spoke of the treatment of Native Americans:
“We weren’t supposed to survive this settler colonial project. They tried to massacre us. … They tried to kill our life sources. They tried to take out the buffalo, and the salmon, and contaminate our waters. They forcibly removed us from our lands and chased us down like animals when we tried to return home. They sterilized our women and kidnapped our children and tried to kill the Indian to save the man.
And when they failed—because they failed—they now try to silence us and erase us from the history books. But we are still here, and we survive. And to my Palestinian relatives, so will you.”
Such acts of elimination are repeated on Palestinians. Israel restricts access to water and demolishes wells. Olive trees are uprooted and foraging is criminalized. Homes are bulldozed and Palestinians expelled from their lands. Palestinians, too, face historical erasure, encapsulated in Israeli prime minister Golda Meir’s infamous suggestion that “there were no such thing as Palestinians.”
Other speakers invoked the Civil Rights struggle. Jonel Edwards of Dream Defenders sang a refrain from the era: “What side are you on?” to which the crowd responded, “we on the freedom side.” The choice to stand against Israeli apartheid is as clear as opposing racial segregation. Black leaders recognized the connection of these struggles, including Malcolm X, who supported “the right of the Arab refugees to return to their Palestine homeland,” and Kwame Ture, who declared that the “[Palestinians] will win because theirs is a just struggle.”
“As Filipinos we know what it is like to struggle against foreign occupation and domination. … For centuries the Philippines was colonized by Spain and colonized by the United States and up to today remains a U.S. neo-colony. … Philippine and Palestinian liberation are inextricably linked because we have a common enemy.”
And Ju-Hyun Park of Nodutdol for Korean Community Development, asserted that “we have one struggle, the struggle against imperialism.”
Channeling Our Power
When the crowd chanted, shouts reverberated off the surrounding buildings and hung in the air. The gathering showed the strength of our numbers. But to end Israeli occupation and genocide we must develop a strategy beyond marching. Throughout the day, many suggestions were put forward.
First, we must educate. A surprising moment occurred when the rapper Macklemore appeared on stage. “They told me to do my research,” he said. “In the last three weeks I’ve gone back, and I’ve done some research, and I’m teachable; I don’t know enough, but I know enough that this is a genocide.”
The events in Palestine did not start on October 7. The British-backed Balfour Declaration, calling for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, was issued on November 2, 1917. During the 1948 Nakba (“catastrophe”), hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly displaced for the creation of the Jewish state. Now, “Israel’s leaders call for a second Nakba as if the first one ever ended,” said Nabulsi. Recent images of Palestinians fleeing their homes reveals the continuity with this moment of inception.
Second, we must continue to pressure the country’s leaders to call for #CeasefireNOW. DSA’s No Money for Massacres campaign has made around 250,000 calls urging representatives to do so. More than fifty have now voiced support. The recent six-day truce falls short of a ceasefire as the necessary first step in ending the occupation.
But it will take more than phone calls to end the genocide. As Nabulsi put it, “we do not stand here because we believe that we can appeal to your conscience to end genocide. We stand here because the power of the people will force you to.”
President Joe Biden has quickly become the face of these horrors. Biden has made only tepid remarks to calm Israel’s bombing while repeating false claims about beheaded babies and mythical Hamas headquarters under al-Shifa hospital, and disputing the legitimacy of the death toll reported from Gaza. Biden bragged about sending $100 million in humanitarian assistance to Gazans, but continues to supply weapons to kill them in much greater volume. As Brian Becker of ANSWER Coalition put it, “Israel pulls the trigger, but the U.S. government sends the weapons, they pay the bills; it’s their genocide too!”
“Biden, Biden, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!” chanted the crowd. The pressure building over Palestine directly threatens the reelection of “Genocide Joe” Biden. If the President refuses to respect the wishes of his voters, he cannot take their votes for granted. The election may be a full year away, but this only provides additional time for horrors to unfold and be laid at Biden’s feet. Those present at the March promised that “in November we remember,” and “no ceasefire, no votes.”
Third, demands for Palestinian liberation must be backed by the threat of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. We must refuse to support businesses that profit off the occupation, and pressure pensions, college campuses, and corporations to divest from Israel. Most importantly, the U.S. must end all military aid to Israel and condition future aid on an end to apartheid and occupation.
Finally, we must take direct action by setting our bodies upon the gears of war. Calling to “Shut it Down,” disruptions have promised no business as usual while support for genocide continues. Targets have included weapons manufacturers Elbit Systems and Lockheed Martin, the investment company Blackrock, media entities New York Times and Fox News, college campuses, transportation infrastructure, political events, and individual politicians.
We can only accomplish these tasks by continuing to organize a mass movement. In addition to a visible demonstration of strength, protests and marches provide an opportunity to join organizations or to link arms across movements. Those present at the March were encouraged by Celine Qussiny of the Palestinian Youth Movement to “take a good look around you. Remember the energy that you’re feeling today and bring it home with you. Bring it to your workplaces, your schools, your neighborhoods, your streets.”
Those taking part in the struggle must support one another as a community. We have seen the consequences for those speaking out against genocide in lost jobs, censorship, and condemnation. “They want us to think that we are paying personal prices,” said Palestinian writer Mohammed el-Kurd. “They want us to think that we are alone, but we have our people supporting us.”
“Are you afraid?” he asked. “No!” came the resounding cry.
We Are the Revolution
“This march is the beginning,” proclaimed several speakers. It is often said that financial bankruptcy happens “slowly, then all at once.” The same is coming true for the unraveling of American empire.
Following Donald Trump, it was claimed that Biden would restore America’s moral leadership. Not only has he failed in this regard, but America’s complicity in genocide has exposed the hollow reality of the entire liberal order. Its ideals of democracy and human rights have been quickly sacrificed on the altar of power.
At the pro-war “March for Israel,” Democratic Party leadership—our supposed saviors from Republican fascism—joined the stage alongside election deniers and bigots. CNN and other news outlets have accepted censorship as the price of access for ride-alongs with the lie-prone IDF. And the “rules based international order” has been revealed to mean nothing but submission to U.S. imperialism.
Afro-Caribbean writer Aimé Césaire recognized Hitler’s fascism as the application to Europe of “colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa.” In the same way, endless funding to maintain overseas American military hegemony manifests at home in the militarization of police, expansion of the surveillance state, and crushing of dissent. Techniques adapted from the occupied territories are used to reinforce America’s ongoing racial segregation.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government makes no pretense of providing material security for its people. “What are they doing for us today?” asked Edwards.
“Universal healthcare is too expensive. Canceling student debt is too expensive. Everything for the people is too expensive. But when it comes to funding the police, funding militarism, they always cut the check.”
These revelations are causing a shift in tone. In front of the White House, the marchers announced their presence: “We are the revolution.” A new era will be ushered in by these generations for whom the American mythos has been dispelled. The optimism of the moment was expressed in chants of “I believe that we will win.”
We will continue to organize for the liberation of Palestine and decolonization in all its forms. As Ahmad Abuznaid of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights quoted from the Palestinian poem Enemy of the Sun, famously found in the prison cell of Black Panther George Jackson: “I shall not compromise, and to the last pulse in my veins, I shall resist.”
The post We Are the Revolution: The National March on Washington to Free Palestine first appeared on Rochester Red Star.
Fri, Dec 1st, 2023
Thu, Nov 30th, 2023
National Political Education Events and Resources on Palestine for DSA Chapters
NPEC has been developing several political education resources and events on Palestine over the last few weeks. This page has all the latest for chapters and their educators to let them know what’s ahead and how to get engaged.
First, to assist chapters as they plan their political education events on Palestine, we have started a Google Drive folder to centralize DSA-created political education materials. If your national DSA committee or chapter has any educational materials on Palestine to share, please submit them to NPEC using this form. Note: the inclusion of any resource in this collection is not an NPEC endorsement of its contents – we encourage you to look through the folder and use whatever materials are useful to you at your discretion. The folder with collected materials can be accessed here and will be continually updated. For a basic primer on Palestine from a socialist perspective, check out our recent Palestine and Socialism episode on NPEC’s Podcast, Class.
There are also a number of upcoming political education events on Palestine in December, including our Talking to Non-Socialists About Palestine training (Monday the 4th), Understanding the Israeli–Palestinian Colonial Conflict panel (Saturday the 9th), and Empower DSA Kids Event: Building Understanding and Support for Palestine (Sunday the 10th). Whether you’re able to join us for our trainings or not, we encourage you to check out our sample lesson plan for organizing educational discussion spaces on Palestine in your chapter. For other events organized by other national DSA bodies, follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest.
We are also expanding the events calendar on our website! Chapters can now add their upcoming virtual and hybrid events to a national calendar so DSA members and non-members around the country have no shortage of political education to learn from. This is an excellent way for us to show the fantastic events that our chapters are putting on while also opening those events up to a broader audience, especially right now with the urgent need for education on Palestine. If you want to add your chapter’s political education events to our national calendar, please write to us at [email protected] or reply to this email for more info.
November 2023 Newsletter
In this newsletter, you will find information on:
- Testing OpenSlides for Chapters,
- How to get involved in the NTC,
But first, we have a new report to share with you…
The Discussion Forum Report
After the NTC was given stewardship of the Discussion Forum in the beginning of September, the committee immediately announced a Maintenance window scheduled for the morning of October 1 to begin the three years of maintenance updates the forum was behind on. This process involved tasks ranging from server maintenance, application updates, and configuration of the initial new features on the Discussion Forum. These updates have transformed the platform!
Other major features we’ve implemented include the Discourse Groups feature, which permits some friendlier features like tagging associations via user titles and a smaller icon (called Avatar Flair) next to usernames.
Read our full report here.
Need access to the Discussion Forum, sign up using the email account associated with your DSA membership using this form.
Testing OpenSlides for Chapters
and National Bodies
The NTC is testing using OpenSlides, the same tool we used at Convention, for chapters and national bodies. The National Political Committee (NPC) has approved our work plan for this wider roll out of OpenSlides. DSA members will soon be able to use OpenSlides to read introduced resolutions, propose amendments, and finally vote, both at the chapter level and as part of national working groups and committees.
Following this initial period, we hope to give all DSA bodies the same features and functionalities enjoyed by delegates at Convention, with the added benefit that you will be able to use one login for OpenSlides across chapters and national bodies. On top of this, we’re working to get the NPC on-boarded and to permit any member to observe NPC meetings and voting. To catch up on our work with OpenSlides, check out this report we published in July before the convention. But there’s a ton of areas to get involved in and so much more for us to do!
We’re looking for comrades with technical or guide writing experience, sysadmin experience, or just general ability to be able to help build out chapters and national committees. We need all the help we can get to make sure this is a successful – and foundational – change for how DSA does its business. We have a Kanban board on the NTC Discussion Board of our current area of work which can be viewed here.
Get involved in the NTC
Wed, Nov 29th, 2023
The Hope of the World: 2023 Labor Year in Review
2023 has been a major year for workers so far, and the momentum shows no signs of slowing down as we head into 2024. While major strikes by UAW at the Big Three in the auto industry and by WGA and SAG-AFTRA in the entertainment world are making headlines, thousands of workers across the country are taking action in ways big and small that you may not always hear about. On this show, we're joined live by Jenny Brown, assistant editor at Labor Notes and author of Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work, to discuss the labor year so far and what organizers can learn going into 2024.
We also hear from Evan, vice chair of the Graduate Center Chapter of the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, on how union organizers are protecting the free speech of Palestinian solidarity activists on campus.
Call for Ceasefire
After the death of 14,000 Palestinians in Gaza and 1.7 million displaced, Israel has finally agreed to a 4 day pause in exchange for 50 hostages from Hamas. This pause will help but it is not nearly enough. To prevent further bloodshed, Israel must agree to a permanent ceasefire. Bombing Gaza is not the answer, negotiation is.
We urge all individuals to demand your Congressperson support Rep. Cori Bush’s resolution for a PERMANENT CEASEFIRE NOW in Gaza.
We at Grand Rapids DSA stand with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a member of Detroit DSA and the only Palestinian American in Congress, and her continued demand for a ceasefire in Gaza – a demand that is supported by a vast majority of Michigan Democrats. Her bravery to stand for what is right, despite the attacks against her from her fellow congress members, is commendable.
We demand Rep. Hillary Scholten, Sen. Gary Peters, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow to support Rep. Cori Bush’s resolution urging the Biden Administration to call for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine. 47 of their colleagues support a ceasefire, with that number growing every day. No money for massacres!
Ceasefire Now for People and Planet
In the past months, DSA has mobilized nationally to organize to end the US-funded siege on Gaza and the illegal occupation of Palestine. From direct actions to marches and phonebanks, chapters across the country have rallied for a rapid response that meets this devastation at scale. Panelists will discuss this resurgence of a Left anti-war movement and answer how DSA as an organization can deepen internationalism and anti-militarism within our existing climate organizing. The event will explain why Palestinian liberation is central to the climate justice movement- and why demilitarization is not only socially necessary but a requirement for meeting climate goals.
This call is sponsored by the DSA Green new Deal Committee and the DSA International Committee.
Tue, Nov 28th, 2023
Weekly Roundup: November 28, 2023
Tuesday, 11/28 (6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.): Turnout Tuesday – Labor Edition (In person at 1916 McAllister, with hybrid option available; contact [email protected] for more info)
Wednesday, 11/29 (6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.): HWG Reading Group: Mean Streets (In person at 1916 McAllister)
Thursday, 11/30 (6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.): HWG Presents: JenBo! “How to Get Housed in SF.” (In person at 1916 McAllister)
Friday, 12/1 (12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.): Office Hours (In person at 1916 McAllister)
Tuesday, 12/5 (7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.): Strike CFA-SFSU (In person at SFSU; exact address will be announced the week before)
Tuesday, 12/5 (6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.): How to Be an Organizer Training (Zoom)
Wednesday, 12/6 (7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.) (Labor) Board Game Night (In person at 1916 McAllister)
Thursday (6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.): Ecosocialist Monthly Meeting (Zoom)
Check out https://dsasf.org/events/ for more events.
Events & Actions
How Do People Get Housed?
Is San Francisco set up to actually help people exit homelessness and get into housing? What resources exist, and are they accessible? And how long does this whole process take? Join DSA SF member and City Hall worker, Jenbo, as she attempts to untangle the arcane bureaucracy of different city departments, nonprofits, outreach teams, shelter and housing systems that make up the City’s response to the homelessness crisis.
Join this Homelessness Working Group-hosted event on Thursday, November 30th at 6:30 p.m. at 1916 McAllister. Dinner will be provided!
Holiday Party and Bake Sale
Join us for our holiday bash Sunday, December 10th at 2:00 p.m. at 1916 McAllister and try the best baking DSA SF has to offer! Featuring celebrity guest judges Joanna Fuller from Devil’s Teeth Baking Company, labor organizer and comedian Nato Green and California labor historian and author of From Mission to Microchip Fred Glass!
In addition to delicious treats we will have plenty of cool gifts for you to buy for your loved ones (or yourself!) with handcrafted goods by DSA members, a silent art auction, and one-of-a-kind experiences! Sign up for the baking contest here.
Submit Your Nominations for Chapter Leadership!
Hello, comrades! We are now opening nominations for chapter leadership! Please fill out this form if you would like to nominate yourself or a comrade for a leadership position!
Leadership positions for the following chapter bodies are up for chapter-wide elections:
- Labor Board (5 seats)
- Electoral Board (5 seats)
- Mutual Aid Priority Leadership (3 seats total, 1 vacant)
- Chapter Coordination Committee Co-Chairs (2 seats)
- Education Board (3 seats)
- Ecosocialists Committee Co-Chairs (2 seats)
- Tenant Organizing Working Group Co-Chairs (2 seats)
The following chapter bodies will be holding internal elections, which will be ratified by the chapter:
- Homelessness Working Group Co-Chairs
- AfroSocialists & Socialists of Color Committee Co-Chairs
Elections and ratification votes will be held at our December chapter meeting!
Smolidarity is Coming Back for the December Chapter Meeting!
The chapter is coordinating childwatch for the upcoming chapter meeting in December! If you are a parent or caregiver and you would like to bring your kids to the meeting, take a moment to fill out this form so we can make sure we have enough volunteers and the right supplies on hand.
If you would like to help out with the chapter’s smolidarity efforts, drop a line in the #priority-mutual-aid channel on Slack!
At the last chapter meeting, members passed a Holiday Break Resolution calling for a pause in regular chapter activities from Sunday, December 17th until Monday, January 1st. This break is intended to give folks time to rest, relax, and recuperate as we enter the winter season.
What this means in practice is a pause in our organizing for the latter half of December, including canceling regularly scheduled chapter body meetings, fewer events being held, and some chapter coordination functions like CCC support, new member onboarding, and the newsletter taking a break for a couple weeks.
We hope chapter members will take this period to recuperate and recharge so we can all return energized in the New Year.
Behind the Scenes
The Chapter Coordination Committee (CCC) regularly rotates duties among chapter members. This allows us to train new members in key duties that help keep the chapter running like organizing chapter meetings, keeping records updated, office cleanup, updating the DSA SF website and newsletter, etc. Members can view current CCC rotations here.
To help with the day-to-day tasks that keep the chapter running, fill out the CCC help form.
Feedback? Questions? Something to add?
We’re always looking for feedback. If you have comments or suggestions, feel free to send a message to the #newsletter channel on Slack.
For information on how to add content, check out the Newsletter Q&A thread on the forum.
Maine Mural Podcast, Episode 34: Maine Lacks Adequate Civil Rights Protections
In this month’s installment of the Maine Mural Podcast, Wil T. reads his Pine & Roses article, “Maine Lacks Adequate Civil Rights Protections.” The Maine Mural Podcast strives to offer interviews, histories, reporting, and article readings for a working-class audience, both locally and abroad. You can listen to this episode below, and find other episodes by clicking here, or looking us up on your favorite major podcast platform. If you would like to get involved with the Maine Mural Podcast, or more generally Pine & Roses, please email us at [email protected]. Now please, enjoy the episode!
The post Maine Mural Podcast, Episode 34: Maine Lacks Adequate Civil Rights Protections appeared first on Pine & Roses.
Starbucks: The long haul from recognition to a national contract
Frank Emspak argues that Starbucks workers can win a union and a contract at Starbucks if the labor movement acts like a labor movement.
Update from State Street Starbucks
Our union sympathetic manager has quit because he “can no longer ethically work for this company”. Our new store manager has been selected and is a universally disliked leader who is known for firing union organizers. We have also learned that our district manager expects our store specifically, though not others, to follow a scheduling system made by an AI. Because of this, in the school year when we typically have about 50+ workers, we are now being told we will not be permitted more than 25 workers, including supervisors and the store manager. Our outgoing store manager told me that this is not only to cut labor even more but that it is a tactic to wear workers down, presumably to the point they are just so exhausted they either A. quit or B. fail to perform to new standards so they will be fired. After that, corporate will likely return to full staff with new hires brought in to decertify the union.(from Frank’s communications with State Street Starbucks workers)
Workers at Starbucks have decided to unionize in at least 200 locations throughout the US. However, as might be expected, Starbucks has refused to negotiate a contract with any location. The company has been fined for unfair labor practices and has even agreed to reinstate some workers. But the NLRB process itself is fatally flawed. It is clear that we must find other ways to alter the balance of forces, so that Starbucks understands that it is in their best interest to negotiate a fair contract with unionized locations.
The NLRB thicket
In the 1930s, the NLRB was set up to regulate union recognition battles then erupting across America. It was not designed to facilitate union organization but to channel it. Over the years, especially with the passage of the Taft-Hartley act in 1947, and through various court decisions since then, many of the tactics that unions used to organize and encourage firms to bargain were ruled to be illegal or unfair labor practices.
There is more bad news on the labor law front. Companies have developed the deadly art of delay. As Megan K Stack described the situation, Starbucks just did what companies do. In ways that are perfectly legal, they delay, delay, and delay until a union victory appears fruitless to those that organized the union in the first place. The process of delay effectively undermines the union’s power. Extreme turnover in industries like Starbucks and food service in general means that delay can mean the people who voted for a union are not there when the firm mounts a decertification challenge.
Extreme delays also make it harder and harder to convince workers that it’s worth risking their jobs for a contract that can’t be realized in their time as workers there. As reported in the publication Dollars and Sense, the average length of time it takes to obtain a first contract after winning a union representation election has increased from 375 days in 2007 to 575 days in the years 2020-2022, an increase of 35 percent. After 3 years, 32 percent of those unions formed more than 3 years ago still do not have a contract. At the same time the number of union representation elections is increasing: 1522 in 2022 with a 76 percent union win rate.
It is true that in some cases unions can file unfair labor practices cases demanding that the company negotiate or order the reinstatement of a person fired for union activity. Even should the union win, the remedy is generally to make whole; that is, to hire the person back with back wages. Most workers are in no position to wait the year or two (plus appeals) that such cases can take. In addition, the NLRB cannot impose monetary penalties.
Just in case delay and appeal did not stack the deck enough, firms (or unions) can also appeal. Even if the National Labor Relations Board makes a decision and administrative law judges concur with that decision or make their own, it can be appealed in the federal Courts. But as Take Back the Court reports, more than 80 percent of Supreme Court rulings favor the corporations so that actual implementation of a pro-worker ruling can be delayed for years, and when it gets to the Supreme Court, there is a 4 out of 5 chance that the ruling will be pro-management.
In any case Congress has been unwilling to pass legislation to improve the process to even come close to balancing the playing field, never mind providing meaningful protections for workers who seek to organize a union.
Given that history, think of what it would take to make American labor law correspond with the rest of existing law. For example, in the rest of society, punishment (jail time, fines, etc.) are imposed after a trial and a finding of guilt. In labor law, the opposite is true. Punishment (suspension or firing) is imposed by management immediately, and then at some future point a trial is held.
Clearly, the NLRB route doesn’t work.
But the limits imposed by the NLRB process are only part of the problem. As the New York Times pointed out so clearly, Starbucks, in its efforts to defeat unionization, simply did what companies do. So far, there have been no egregious physical assaults on workers, mass closings of Starbucks shops in a city, or widespread discharges. These are not the iron and coal police of Pennsylvania in the 1930s. Delay, delay, and appeal are the methods of choice to defeat the union, and these are all legal. Every once in a while, Starbucks gets out of line and is charged with an unfair labor practice, but these instances are neither widespread enough nor costly enough to force any changes in the company’s behavior.
There are other barriers to organization in firms like Starbucks that go beyond labor law. Starbucks has thousands of workplaces, and although the presentation of products and the culture of the location are determined at the top, the multiplicity of locations means that there is a lack of employee concentration. This employment structure effectively makes it more difficult to use the strike weapon.
An effective strike shuts a company down, inflicting enough pain to force management to the table for meaningful negotiations. It provides enough leverage to alter the balance of forces between management and labor. But a strike at Starbucks, which operates 9,000 stores in the U.S., would have to involve a much larger number of locations than the union has currently organized to really impact the company’s financial performance. To an extent, the effective use of social media and communication systems like Zoom can overcome only some of the challenges.
Is it possible to conceive of a solution within the current legal and organizational framework to achieve contracts? Is it possible to conceive that a firm could agree to implement a neutrality agreement that in effect allows the union to campaign for recognition without opposition from management? Such an agreement, negotiated at the top between union leadership and Starbucks, could in theory level the playing field. But a neutrality agreement with teeth in it usually results from an effective nationwide corporate campaign of a scope and popularity of the United Farm Workers campaign against Gallo wines a generation ago. Looking at a company like Starbucks, a corporate campaign would also have to include a serious financial offensive as well as a political offensive beyond the scope of a consumer boycott.
A variant of neutrality would require the company to agree to neutrality during an election as well as an agreement to accept a contract, national or regional, covering all the employees who vote for a union. The agreement between the United Auto Workers and General Motor after the Flint sit-down strike ended in 1937, General Electric agreements with United Electrical Workers, and the agreement between the United Steel workers and U.S. Steel in 1937 were of this type.
But while neutrality or outright union recognition pending a vote has been successful in many public sector campaigns, the private sector is another question. Absent political pressure available in the public sector, we have seen that these agreements do not necessarily result in union victories–as has been the case with the United Automobile Workers at Mercedes Benz in Alabama. Indeed, a meaningful neutrality agreement is possible only when it mirrors the situation on the ground, thus becoming an agreement that enables the already-existing organization and impulse of the workforce. It is a ratification of democracy, not a system to replace it. Specifically the union would have to be acting like a union,organizing departments or groups of workers to be demanding fair treatment, better schedules or acting on health and safety complaints. Public actions supported by a majority of workers, enough to get noticed and show that collective action is worthwhile. If these small actions are supported by a majority it is very hard for management to impose discipline, illustrating strength in numbers.
A short look at U.S. labor history
In the 1920s, working people faced a grim reality. All of the hi-tech industries of the day–auto, electrical, steel, paper, and chemical–were almost completely nonunion. To say that these industries were nonunion understates the situation, as many of these firms had their own police and thugs, as well as the courts, to attack workers who wanted to organize. It was also obvious that the dominant labor organization of the day, the American Federation of Labor, and its craft-based orientation were simply incapable of organizing the new industries.
As the 1920s rolled on, more and more workers realized that they needed a new form of organization; they developed the industrial form of organization–essentially a wall-to-wall approach. Everyone in a location would be in the same union. This realization was stimulated by groups of class-conscious workers, many of whom were in socialist or communist organizations. The new form of organization resulted in the unionization of General Motors, General Electric, U.S. Steel, and others.
Today, major industries–from technology to food service–are unorganized. If the union movement is unable to organize those firms, it will become increasingly marginalized. The GEs and GMs of yesterday are the Apple, Amazon, Epics, and Starbucks of today. Meanwhile, as in the past, workers in those firms are crying out for organization and, in many cases, taking steps to do it themselves.
PULL: The Starbucks workers will determine the best union or organization to represent their interests. … We need a focused effort, city by city, area by area, to lend support to those workers who are now in motion.
Moving forward: Doing the same thing more vigorously will do nothing
It is clear that if the company continues to do what it does naturally and organized labor does the same, then the results will be the same–derailing or stifling the movement.
The implications of this assessment are obvious. Progressive workers fought within the AFL to organize the unorganized along industrial lines.
This form of organization, necessary to win contracts with firms like Starbucks, will require innovation in the way we precede. The source of that innovation will be a focus and mobilization of progressives within the labor movement to force changes in the way we operate. The change envisioned is a change of attitude from defensiveness or passivity to one where the local labor movement is on the offensive. This means that our local labor and progressive organizations should not wait until workers come to it , but to be out there in the community and the workplace with the message that we are here for you. Starbucks workers -and all workers attempting to organize must know that aside from the union organizer that the labor community has their backs.
Those changes will make it possible for the labor movement to enable Starbucks workers to win. The Starbucks workers, just as workers in other generations and other circumstances, seem to be able to organize themselves and appeal for outside help to secure a contract. It is that next step– winning the contract–that will require political and organizational mobilization.
What existing structures are at our disposal that could be a basis for change?
Our assumption is that if it is too costly for Starbucks to maintain their massive resistance to unionization in any particular market they will either abandon that market or agree to a contract. Obviously there is a limit to the abandonment strategy.
Denying the company their market is the best remaining option for the workers involved. The labor movement has a structure in place that can serve as a basis for a campaign of support for Starbucks workers. There are several hundred labor councils in the United States. Many of them are in markets essential to Starbucks growth. In addition, there are hundreds of progressive community centered groups, many focused on dealing with specific working class issues which could join any labor council initiative to support Starbucks workers.
If those labor councils, as a matter of policy, mobilized their memberships to boycott Starbucks locations–no matter which union was organizing them–until the company recognized the union and signed a contract, perhaps we might make some progress.
Clearly there are barriers to this strategy. Not all unions are in labor councils, especially some of those organizing Starbucks workers. The disorganization of organized labor puts the issue of what progressives in those labor councils and in those unions organizing Starbucks need to do to place the interests of the Starbucks workers ahead of the parochial interests of their local union or labor council.
This strategy depends on the collective of unions in any area accepting the notion that union consciousness means challenging these barriers. This is no easy task, but it has the advantage of being clear. A program focusing its support for Starbucks workers will enable workers to take action. It also means that Starbucks workers, who wish to engage in organizing their workplace, will know that someone has their back.
The Starbucks workers will determine the best union or organization to represent their interests. That is their right. Maybe workers will develop new forms of organization as workers did in the 1930s; maybe not. But we in the labor movement have a responsibility to do all we can to find ways to move past the present impasse. We need a focused effort, city by city, area by area, to lend support to those workers who are now in motion.
The author would like to thank Mike Locker for his suggestions and assistance in developing this article.
ADDENDUM: I wrote this article during the summer of 2023 as workers in Starbucks continued their efforts to organize. Since then workers conducted a successful strike at about 300 locations during Red Cup day- but the company remained unmoved. While the company faces numerous unfair labor practice charges there is apparently no effort on the part of the NLRB or the Biden administration to call out Starbucks for the labor violator that it is. If anything the November strikes demonstrate the need for massive support for Starbucks workers from the labor movement as a whole. The purpose of direct action is to cause enough pain to a company so as to encourage it to meet the union as an equal. We are not quite there yet.