Saturday, 3 January 2009

A Workers Right to Organise: Lessons from America

Dear Colleagues,

A happy new year to you all!

I am very pleased to kick off this year's blog with a story that updates a previous post last year about the fantastic organising activity undertaken by the newly formed Starbucks Workers Union ( which has been formed as a local (or branch to UK colleagues) of the mighty Industrial Workers of the World (

There are a variety of excellent You Tube clips (e.g. which document the background to this story and which illustrate vividly how best to grow a campaign that sought to capitalise on the failure of a corporation's ethical stance and used this as an inititiative to radicalise and organise predominantly younger workers.

The latest news from the US ( is that the new workers' union is proving able to resist the corporations attempts to retrench their position and outflank the new union.

What's great about this story is that it thoroughly trashes any notion that economic depression neutralises the will and capacity of workers (particularly the young) to unionise and that even in a country with a relatively weakened statutory framework of protection for workers there is still the potential to beat corporate interests in the courtroom as well as the workplace.

I am also intrigued by this story as it runs parallel to those which question what the relationship will be between the Obama and organised labour under the new administration. Much is made, for example, of the concessions wrung out of the United Autoworkers of America ( in supporting the bail-out given to the consortium of car manufacturers. The trend, some suggest, is that Obama may find it difficult the premiums given to 'union jobs' within straightened economic times. Regardless of this however, the vast majority of unions in the US backed Obama and will naturally expect some form on concessions out of the first administration.

A good start then to 2009 and I hope we can maintain this trajectory.

The question I'd like to ask though is how can we in the UK recreate the Starbucks effect?

Answers and comments as usual please.




Jaswant said...


You mean to say that i have been boycoting Starbucks all this time and they are unionised - bugger!

Good news, next stop McDonalds.


GT said...

Hi Ian,

Happy new year to you sir!

An interesting news item. I had followed this since your last comment on it last year and I had viewed a couple of the youtube clips.

What I see as incredible is the enthusiasm and zeal of thes young people in taking on a multinational and developing a strategy that put the tighteners on them by using the companys own corporate social responsibility position.

I agree with you that it shows that anything is possible regardless of the economics of the time.

I would be very pleased to support any similar activity in the UK. Please pass me any information you have.

Hope to see you soon.



ShopSteward85 said...

Happy new year.

I see this as excellent news particularly as the workers were able to attack Costa using their position of a'good' employer. I read somewhere else that the workers also exposed the fact that the company did not pay African coffee growers the going rate - but they had promised too.

A good all-around victory and as your last contributor said lets hope this extends to the UK.