The Socialist Party of America exists to awaken and empower American workers, regardless of their personal ideologies or field of work. This has always been our primary mission and concern. Historically, the Socialist Party of America took a central role in early 20th century strikes and organizing. In the strike wave of 1909, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City was specifically named as a hazardous workplace with underpaid workers in dangerous sweatshop conditions.
On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the factory. Because of a combination of flammable oil being stored inside the building and the fact that company owners locked the doors to prevent unauthorized work breaks and theft, 146 workers were trapped inside and died in the fire. While the workers had been complaining for years about these and other issues, their complaints were not taken seriously, as they were viewed as low-skilled workers—mostly immigrants, women, and children. It took their deaths to spur action, which resulted in not only new safety standards, but the formation of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
Today, jobs in food service, such as baristas, are similarly viewed as labor performed by “unskilled workers” or as “starter jobs for teenagers.” The facts: nearly 80% of workers in America work at these types of service jobs, and nearly 100,000 of these workers still suffer serious physical injuries at work each year. At Starbucks, one worker says she was forced to continue working after receiving 2nd degree burns.
Companies like Starbucks spend an estimated $340 million annually on union-busting efforts, and employers are charged with violating labor laws in 41.5% of all union elections. Starbucks has threatened employees, implied they will lose their benefits with a union, cut hours of suspected union organizers, and even closed entire stores to avoid unionization efforts. Even in the face of these union-busting activities, over 150 stores have unionized this year.
Other unionization efforts in America have revealed that corporations are getting smarter and finding new ways to bust union organizing. At Google, the so-called “Alphabet Workers Union” was formed by internal management to create grievance councils under the HR department. These styles of “union” specifically prohibit collective bargaining and strikes, and ultimately serve as a workplace party planning committee. Their essence is that of sabotage and sheepdogging workers away from actual unionization efforts. Our party has been vocal about the dangers of supporting these phony efforts. However, the recent efforts of Starbucks workers stand in stark contrast.
The Starbucks workers’ union, Starbucks Workers United, seeks to improve working conditions: regular scheduling, required breaks between shifts, increases in wages and benefits, improved safety, and other demands won via collective bargaining and strikes. Starbucks Workers United is a real labor union and deserves our support and the support of communists everywhere.
According to the theories of Karl Marx, any worker who trades their labor power for a wage is a member of the working class. The level of physical labor required for your job does not change this fact. Under capitalism, companies rely on driving wages as low as possible in order to turn a profit. Unions are essential to maintain a level of human dignity under wage slavery.
With that in mind and in carrying with our long tradition of standing for all workers, the Socialist Party of America is proud to endorse and support the unionization efforts of Starbucks workers and Starbucks Workers United.