Sometimes I almost want to like Starbucks, purveyor of expensive yet soothingly foamy hot drinks. The company buys some Fair Trade coffee (though not nearly enough). Employees get health insurance even if they only work 20 hours a week. And while it’s always horrible when a Starbucks displaces a neighborhood coffee shop with more character, and roots in the community, I’ve also seen Starbucks in strip malls, on highways and many other places that never had a coffee shop before. A coffee shop is, after all, a civilized spot for people of all ages to gather, talk, read and hang out with one another, and if Starbucks creates more such spaces, that’s a good thing. Best of all, as a friend put it, for many of us, Starbucks is not a coffee shop at all, but “an infrastructure of free bathrooms throughout New York City.”
Sadly, however, like so many companies that make “social responsibility” a part of their brand identity — Ben & Jerry’s, Whole Foodsand even Philadelphia’s vaunted White Dog Cafe — Starbucks is adamantly anti-union. Daniel Gross found that out the hard way. This weekend, Gross was fired, fellow employees say, after trying for three years to organize his fellow workers at 17th and Broadway, in Manhattan. Gross is the fourth union activist to be fired from the company this year. The workers will continue trying to organize with the IWW (yes, the Wobblies live!) and have some suggestions on how you can help support their campaign, including boycotting Starbucks until it changes its union-busting ways. Students should consider joining the Justice from Bean to Cup campaign, to pressure Starbucks to reinstates the fired union activists, as well as make a more meaningful commitment to Fair Trade coffee.
Speaking of the latter, I’ve had some complaints from people who didn’t read my Fair Trade coffee post carefully and thought I was dismissing all Fair Trade coffee. Duh, of course not. I was serious when I wrote that I’m convening a tasting panel, and am confident we’ll have some tasty findings to report. Relax, people: identifying the good stuff can only help, not hurt, the Fair Trade movement by giving the consumer a little more information.