Ms. Anya Kamenetz is always whiny, but it's unpredictable whether her whines will be (A) mostly infuriating or (B) simply ludicrous. Her recent post at HuffPo, entitled "Starbucks Labor Revolutionary Canned" goes for Plan B. Let's look:
Daniel Gross, 27, has spent the last three years trying to organize his fellow Starbucks baristas into the Industrial Workers of the World ( I wrote about him last spring in New York Magazine.) He has reached some success at at least three Starbucks in Manhattan, and others elsewhere, despite vociferous opposition from management.Immediate thoughts:
Wow, the Wobblies
are still around!? I don't
think I've heard of them since US History class back at Harry A. Burke
Senior High School in Omaha. (And, kids, that was a long time
However, the Wobblies are now apparently
desperate enough to consider Starbucks baristas as "Industrial Workers."
The mighty have, indeed, fallen.
Ms. Anya's breathless reporting of the result of three years' effort:
"some success at at least three Starbucks in Manhattan." OK,
she's impressed, but at this rate they'll have
"some success" in the remaining
Manhattan Starbucks in, oh, about 150
years. So the revolution may not be televised; at this rate, we'll see
it in our holodecks.
The overwhelmingly young members of his union are stuck, like millions of teens and 20somethings nationwide, in low-wage, mostly dead-end food service jobs with unpredictable hours and rigid codes of behavior.Ms. Anya's mind seems to float right by the reason these folks are "overwhelmingly young": because people leave dead-end jobs for better ones as they acquire job skills and experience. In short, they aren't stuck. This is good for them, and works out OK for Starbucks. The only people who have problems with this are those stuck in a 1930's-era manichean capitalist-hating mindset … oh, right. The Wobblies.
Some are trying to work their way through college, others have families to support; all of them have this strange idea that they deserve better conditions and prospects.It is a strange idea. Conditions are, well, food service conditions, which (to my untrained eye) are probably above average at Starbucks. Nobody's confusing your average barista's work environment with that of a coal miner or a commercial fisherman, at any rate.
And it could well be that some of these good folks actually do "deserve better prospects". Hard to say without more details. If, however, you spent high school and college in a haze of Nintendo and marijuana as you eked out a BA in Art History … well, maybe you don't deserve better prospects.
But, questions of what you "deserve" aside: if you expect "better conditions and prospects" by dint of being a Starbucks employee, … you may need to adjust your expectations. Or find a different job.
They have embraced the radical socialism of the One Big Union (the one that brought you Joe Hill and "Pie in the Sky") , now just a shadow of its former self, because of its decentralized, democratic structure and its uncompromising ethos of solidarity.Wha… The One Big Union is just a shadow of its former self because of its decentralized, democratic structure and its uncompromising ethos of solidarity?
No, that's not what Ms. Anya means to say. She's just in dire need of an editor, or a copy of Strunk & White.
"The IWW is basically a fan club for anarchists and labor geeks," one barista told me. "But we're making it into something real."Color me skeptical.
Last week, Daniel Gross was reprimanded and fired. His offenses included sticking up for a fellow fired union member at a picket line. The baristas have called for a Starbucks boycott; details are at their website.Starbucks is, of course, not talking about the firing. But when Ms. Anya says Gross's actions "included" merely sticking up for an ex-co-worker (or co-ex-worker), we can surmise some other actions were also "included" that Ms. Anya doesn't see fit to mention.
Is their quest quixotic? Maybe, but the Starbucks Wobblies make me happy.And that's what it's really all about, isn't it? Making Ms. Anya happy?
I'll leave you with Barbara Ehrenreich's words from a Slate debate in June: "Yeah, I'm talking "class war" as a solution to poverty and rising inequality. But remember, the working class didn't start this war and—mainly due to the weakness of the unions and the pusillanimity of the Democrats—has been fairly supine in the face of repeated attacks. I say it's time to fight back. What's your solution?"I'll chime in with a tedious rehash of what I said back in June: Typical of those with the unconstrained vision, Ms. Anya and Ms. Barb know that the only things causing the world's problems—even down to the woes of the baristas—are human stupidity and malice; the proper and obvious solutions, then, involve violent rhetoric about war, attacks, and fighting.
In contrast, I can't resist posting this comment from a nice man on the HuffPo site who doesn't quite get what the fuss is all about:
My daughter, a graduate student in Chicago, is a barista at Starbucks. She makes double the minimum wage, has flexible hours around her school schedule, and has the best benefits available. Even as a part-timer, she has full medical, dental, etc. Not only that, but she was able to put her fiance on full benefits prior to their marriage under the domestic partner benefit clause. No wonder it is hard (at least in Chicago) to get a job there.A little dose of reality that, of course, Ms. Anya and the Wobblies will not find relevant. Because their worldview would implode if they did.