Back in March, we hosted members of the Starbucks Workers Union on their midwest tour. Here is their account of the trip.
On March 19, a delegation of IWW Starbucks baristas from the Twin Cities crammed themselves into one worker’s 3-cylinder Geo Metro and set off on a journey to bring the good word of solidarity unionism to baristas and workers across the lower midwest. Four days later, we returned to the Twin Cities after covering over 1,700 miles, talking to dozens of Starbucks workers about the union, and speaking to enthusiastic audiences in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Iowa City about our efforts to win decent wages, consistent scheduling, and other basic demands through workplace organizing at the world’s largest coffee chain.
Our first stop was KKFI, a community radio station in Kansas City, where the Heartland Labor Forum radio show was kind enough to interview us about our organizing experiences on their show. We then made our way to the Westport Coffee House, where we held a discussion with interested community members about the issues at Starbucks, and the possibility of building a new labor movement from the ground up. We discovered that, just as in every other American city, the Kansas City working class is under attack. The Kansas City School Board recently decided to close an enormous number of schools and lay off many teachers, unionized in the American Federation of Teachers. We extend our solidarity to them and hope that workers and students can unite in defense of quality public education.
The next day, we hit the road for St. Louis, site of the first general strike in US history in 1877, as well as a giant arch, and the worker-owned and democratically-operated Black Bear Bakery. The Autonomy Alliance and local IWW members sponsored a public event at the bakery, providing us with an opportunity to share the story of our union campaign with local labor activists and workers.
After a brief night’s sleep, we were off across the cornfields of Iowa, heading to Iowa City to speak at an event organized by IWW members and the Wild Rose Collective. We met many workers at the event, some with decades of experience in the struggle, others just starting out, and and discussed the possibility of stronger regional support for workplace organizing across the midwest.
Thanks to the generosity of our hosts and audience members in the cities we visited, we were able to cover almost all of our gas costs and always had a place to stay in each town we visited. Working class solidarity is alive and well in the Midwest. Because of this, even a grassroots organization of low-wage retail workers like the IWW Starbucks Workers Union can pose a threat to one of the largest corporations in the world. We find inspiration in this fact, especially after seeing first hand the devastation that the capitalist class has wrought on cities across our region in the last 30 years of deindustrialization, plus the last two years of recession.
We plan to continue visiting workers in other cities across the midwest in the coming months, hopefully laying part of the foundation of a new working class movement for control over our lives and communities across the region.