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First Starbucks Strike

November 23, 2005

Starbucks, the international chain that has revolutionised coffee drinking, experienced its first strike today, in New Zealand. The company, which tries to portray itself as friendly, laid back and ethically responsible, pays close to minimum wage to its 80 000 workers worldwide and is generally anti-union. Here is a video of the picket line.

Starbucks workers were joined on the picket line by workers from KFC and Pizza Hut.

Catering workers around the world are poorly paid, work insecure jobs and are usually not unionised.

I worked in catering for five years in South Africa, and despite working hard to organise The Coffee Bean into a union, had virtually no interest from the useless catering union Saccawu. Despite driving to the union office and putting our membership forms in the hands of the organiser, they never even processed our stop orders. You know a union is slack when they won’t even take your money.

The only time they showed any interest was just before the election, when the organiser turned up at our workplace and told us all to vote ANC.

Maybe it’s because most of us were white, and a few were university students from the suburbs rather than township kids. Like most Cosatu unions, Saccawu is several decades behind the times and hasn’t noticed that the working class are mostly no longer blue collar factory workers. The fastest growing industries in South Africa are catering and call centres – I have worked in both – and these often employ better educated and demographically more diverse workers, but it’s still work and we still had bosses exploiting us and the unions weren’t interested in doing anything for us.

They wonder why they’re hemoraging membership, and then get themselves tied up in bizarre compromises with the government, and spend their time politicking and intriguing rather than building up and servicing the shop floor.

I remember going to political meetings and hearing the speaker from the Sparticist League (a bizarre cult who are something like Southern Baptist of the left) whining about trade unions: “When the revolution comes, comrades, the trade union leadership will hang from the highest lampposts!” That, and the constant call for a general strike as the appropriate response to every issue, was irritating, but unions piss me off too, as they often really hinder shopfloor radicalism.

There is a theory quite prevalent on the left that the Sparts are CIA funded to create confusion and encourage sectarianism. They really are weird – they worship Trotsky as a messiah and regard his works as scripture.

Here is another blog post about the dreaded Sparts.

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