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(en) US, NYC. Interview with arrested IWW Starbucks union organiser

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 24 Sep 2004 14:58:24 +0200 (CEST)

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Daniel Gross is the lead organizer in the ongoing Industrial Workers of
the World effort to establish the only unionized Starbucks in the United
States. He's a worker at the 36th and Madison Starbucks in New York City,
the immediate focus of the campaign. During a demonstration in front of his
workplace during the RNC, Daniel was arrested along with co-worker (and
union supporter) Anthony Polanco. He now faces a trial in October, the
most serious charge being resisting arrest. Left Hook's Derek Seidman
recently had a chance to catch up with Daniel Gross to find out more
about his predicament and the state of the union campaign.

DS: The last time I saw you was when you were getting hauled away in a
police bus from the demonstration in front of the 36th and Madison
Starbucks during the RNC. Your union called the event to rally support
and keep the heat on Starbucks. What exactly happened that day? It
looked like you were about to end the rally when the police arrested

DG: The Union called for a march during the RNC to protest the
intervention of the Bush Administration into the Starbucks organizing
drive. As expected, with Capital in distress the State came to the
rescue. The march began at the Starbucks where the union vote was
denied and continued on to the regional headquarters of Starbucks. We
ended by returning to the store to let them know the IWW is not going
anywhere until every Starbucks worker rises out of poverty. Wobblies
and supporters were in attendance from around the country! The
demonstration was peaceful at all times but that didn't keep the NYPD
from badgering us the entire time.

Just seconds before the conclusion of the rally, I was grabbed off the
sidewalk and arrested. A few moments later, my co-worker and outspoken
union supporter, Anthony Polanco was arrested as well. The targeted
arrest of two union workers at the store raises serious questions about
the criminalization of dissent in general and more specifically law
enforcement's willingness to use force to break a union. After spending
the night in jail, Anthony and I were brought before a judge. The good
news is the prosecutor downgraded Anthony's disorderly conduct
misdemeanor to a violation and the rest of the charges were dropped.
The bad news is the prosecutor is throwing the book at me. The
so-called plea bargain he offered me was pleading guilty to the
outlandish resisting arrest charge and doing a week in jail. Keep in
mind I engaged solely in pure First Amendment activity. I rejected the
offer and will go to trial in October. Of course, if I lose the case
the sentence is likely to be even more severe. However, I am confident
that a jury of my peers in New York City will see through the
Bush/Bloomberg hype that prevailed during the RNC. I am also very
pleased to be represented by activist attorney Leonard Weinglass. He
understands what's at stake in this trial and he knows a thing or two
about repression at political conventions. (Editors Note: Leonard Weinglass
along with William Kunstler represented the Chicago Seven including Tom
Hayden and Abbie Hoffman in the trail arising from events at the 1968
Democratic National Convention.)

Every time we have held a rally in front of Starbucks, the company
tells the police we are blocking the entrance and harassing customers.
So most disturbingly perhaps, Starbucks finally got what they wanted
with our arrests. That's why it's important I am acquitted of all
charges so as to deprive Starbucks of the ability to use my potential
jail sentence as a fear tactic against workers. The Starbucks Workers
Union is asking our friends around the world to take a stand with us
against the criminalization of dissent and union-busting. As my trial
date approaches, legal solidarity actions will be posted on

DS: Did Starbucks have any reaction to the arrest of you and your
co-worker? I know you both had been issued your final warnings.

DG: Starbucks has not made any statements about the arrests. People
from around the world are contacting Starbucks demanding Anthony and I
not be fired. So far that support has kept us our jobs. I appreciate it
so much that working people, dog-tired from a long shift and the
commute home, are taking time out of their day to make a phone call or
send an e-mail to ensure Starbucks can't silence the union.

DS: How's the response been -- in New York and beyond -- to this
campaign? Are people finding out about it? Are you finding a lot of

DG: The campaign is growing at breathtaking speeds. More and more
Starbucks workers are learning they have the right to form a union and
that the IWW is here to help.

DS: Besides the most immediate reasons for a union, what do you see as
the bigger issues and implications involved in this fight?

DG: We're asking folks to join with us in imagining a fighting union of
retail workers and what a constructive force in society such an entity
would be. The Retail Workers Union of the IWW looks forward to the day
when "associates" at Wal-Mart, "team members" at Kinko's, and
"partners" at Starbucks march together under the black and red banner
reading, "Abolition of Wage Slavery". Retail workers are some of the
most exploited employees in the world. I believe a multi-dimensional
revolutionary movement will necessarily require the participation of
this group of workers. Also, retail workers organizing and speaking out
has the potential to shift values within society.
Almost everyone interacts with retail workers every day of the week.
The corporate retail giants depend on their customers not having to
think about the plight of the person standing behind the counter.
Humanizing retail workers to other fellow workers making purchases
sparks questions about the real price of something you buy at a
Wal-Mart. Organized retail workers help shed light on the entire system
of corporate rule where workers are pitted against other workers by the

DS: I've talked about your union struggle with some other people who
don't have the same sort of political awareness about it. They have
some of the same concerns that I imagine you encounter from folks while
leafleting in front of Starbucks: worries about the prices going up if
wages and benefits go up, for instance? What are some of the arguments
you get from people on the middle ground, and how do you respond?

DG: Communicating to the general public about the need for a union at
Starbucks can be challenging. Starbucks invests a lot of money and
effort to create a socially responsible image. "Middle-of-the road"
people often point out that Starbucks is better than some employers.
This is true, but that doesn't change the fact that Starbucks workers
live far below the poverty line and deserve to live free of repetitive
strain injuries. The best way to counter Starbucks propaganda we've
found is with hard data. The numbers don't lie, whether it's the
poverty wage, the hours we get per week, the nuts and bolts of the
health plan or the 401k. As far as prices going up, Starbucks has $4
billion coming in at current prices, plenty to go around. How about
Chairman Howard Schultz spreading around the $17 million he took in
last year? In fact, the Starbucks Workers Union opposes the price
increase set to take effect at Starbucks, allegedly because of
increased dairy prices. We think Starbucks customers are already being
gouged enough. By the way, not every Starbucks customer is a yuppie!
* [Ed. Note: IWW - Industrial Workers of the World is antiauthoritarian
anticapitalist direct action syndicate.]

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