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(en) US, Media. Starbucks workers add shot of unionizing - article in the chicago tribune

Date Tue, 05 Sep 2006 14:41:31 +0300


Starbucks workers add shot of unionizing Historic local group works with baristas
In the city of its birth, and 101 years later, the Industrial Workers
of the World* is still trying to strike a blow for the working class.
Just ahead of Labor Day, baristas at the Starbucks in Logan Square told
management that they wanted to be represented by the IWW. A veteran of
battles that once made the union movement a major force in American
life, the IWW has been largely moribund recently.
Starbucks' management was ready for the faceoff, which
occurred during a periodic meeting of employees and
managers at the giant coffee merchant's store at 2759
W. Logan Blvd., some workers reported. Corporate
honchos would not accept employee demands and handed
out copies of the preamble to the IWW's constitution
in an effort to discredit the union.

"We thanked them for saving us the printing costs,"
said Joe Tessone, 21, a barista and IWW organizer.

The preamble reads: "There can be no peace so long as
hunger and want are found among millions of the
working people and the few, who make up the employing
class, have all the good things of life."

The match of cheery Starbucks baristas and one of the
nation's oldest fire-breathing labor organizations may
seem curious. Certainly a century ago, when the union
held its inaugural meeting on June 27, 1905, no one
could imagine that the nation's economy would be
dominated by McDonald's, Home Depot and other giant
chains.

But a line of continuity joins the vision of the
original "Wobblies," as they were known to friend and
foe, and their latter-day disciples in Logan Square.
The IWW set out to organize the unorganized--low-paid,
often itinerant workers in the mines, mills and lumber
camps that were the backbone of the nation's economy.

Times change, smokestack industries vanish, but the
lot of those at the bottom of the food chain remains
much the same, Tessone said. He said beginning
baristas at the Starbucks where he works make $7.50 an
hour. He and fellow organizer and barista Christine
Morin think the employees should make a minimum of $10
an hour, likening their fight to the big-box ordinance
passed by the Chicago City Council.

"We work very hard for a very profitable company and
deserve a living wage," Tessone said.

Officials at Starbucks' headquarters in Seattle could
not be reached for comment.

Midway through an interview with Morin and Tessone on
the patio of the Logan Square Starbucks, another
worker sheepishly said she had been sent to tell a
reporter and photographer that the conversation had to
be taken off company premises.

Old-time Wobblies would be tickled by a dustup over
who could say what and where.

"They carried the original fight for free speech,"
said Les Orear, 95, president of the Illinois Labor
History Society and a union organizer in the 1930s.
"They'd get up on a soapbox and preach the right of
men and women to organize, knowing the sheriff would
show up and throw them in jail."

Currently, a war of words is being fought on bulletin
boards and over the counters of the Logan Square
Starbucks. Morin said management has posted memos
warning employees that the IWW is a radical
organization, outside the mainstream of the union
movement.

Morin said she and Tessone devised a counterattack. At
Starbucks, employees are known as "partners."

"But we've started greeting each other as `fellow
worker,'" said Morin, 21.

Store patrons have taken up the linguistic battle.

"One customer came in singing: `There once was a union
maid, she never was afraid, of goons and ginks and
company finks,'" Tessone said.

The lyrics are in "The Little Red Song Book," a
collection of union songs still published by the IWW.

Songs and humor always were a big part of the IWW,
said Franklin Rosemont, who operates Charles H. Kerr,
a Chicago-based publisher of Left literature for more
than a century.

"I'm glad to see humor playing a role again," said
Rosemont, 62. "Starbucks, a billion-dollar operation,
being taken on by the Wobblies, who never had more
than $75 in their treasury."

Tessone said he was inspired to join that parade by
the IWW's spirit of self-help. A friend in Joliet,
where he grew up, introduced him to the organization,
which also is working with Starbucks workers in New
York City. Tessone was impressed by its grass-roots
flavor--and price. Dues were $6 a month.

"I'm a volunteer organizer," he said. "We all are."

The IWW was formed not only to take on the factory
owners, but as a challenge to the more conventional
union tactics, said Clancy Sigal, a Hollywood
screenwriter. Sigal recently published "A Woman of
Uncertain Character," a memoir of growing up in
Chicago in an Old Left household.

"The older union leaders said they wanted a bigger
slice of the pie for their members," Sigal said. "The
Wobblies said we want to bake a new pie."

But the IWW ranks were thinned by a backlash against
communism after World War I. When the IWW held a
centennial reunion in Chicago last year, its
membership was estimated at 2,000 nationally, with
perhaps 75 local members.

On Logan Boulevard, the struggle currently lies in the
balance. Tessone and Morin said some of the 16 store
workers are interested in having the IWW as their
bargaining agent; others are non-committal.

"But nobody is Red-baiting us," Tessone said. "Except
for the company, which keeps saying the IWW is bunch
of radicals."
===================================
* Industrial Workers of the World - IWW
is an antiauthoritarian anticapitalist syndicate
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