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.
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. 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. 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. "The IWW is basically a fan club for anarchists and labor geeks," one barista told me. "But we're making it into something real."
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.
Is their quest quixotic? Maybe, but the Starbucks Wobblies make me 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?"