It is with a great deal of excitement that we introduce our latest series, “From the Archives.” We will be bringing pieces to you from older issues of the Industrial Worker to showcase our rich organizing history and to educate newer Wobblies on our successes and failures of the past.

This week, we bring you a story on the IWW Starbucks Workers Union from 2009 in Chile. This is of particular relevance due to the recent wave of NLRB recognition campaigns at Starbucks across the United States. Some media outlets have argued that it is due to the IWW’s early efforts with Starbucks workers that this was able to happen.

The links mentioned at the end of the article are now defunct but the memory of these early successes lives on in the hearts and minds of all the workers who organized for the betterment of their conditions and took these skills with them to future jobs. The lessons of the past are instructive in our organizing for the future.

-IW Editor

On May 5, 2009, the IWW Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) announced the formation of the first union of Starbucks workers in Latin America–Sindicato de Trabajadores de Starbucks Coffee Chile S.A.

Starbucks baristas and shift supervisors in Santiago have organized for respect on the job, a dependable work schedule, and a living wage, among other issues. Currently, Starbucks Coffee Chile S.A. has 30 stores in the region, with plans to open six more stores in the near future.

“Starbucks has been in Chile for six years now, and since they opened, management’s communication with the workers has been getting worse and worse,” said organizer Andrés Giordano.

“We have seen some reprisals against those who have voiced constructive criticism to management about such issues as dismissals and a lack of promotions for baristas,” he added.

Much like the working conditions in North America and Europe, Starbucks coffee shops in Latin America do not pay a living wage. In Santiago, for instance, baristas and shift supervisors only make $2 to $3 per hour, while they continue to sell over-priced specialty drinks for twice that amount. Meanwhile, the cost of living has increased by 26 percent in the last five years, according to Giordano.

“Around the world, Starbucks jobs must work for hard-working baristas, not just senior executives,” said Chrissy Cogswell, a Starbucks employee in Chicago and a member of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union. “The Chilean baristas have created a voice at work to make sure their contribution to the company is respected.”

Missteps by management at Starbucks, including over-expansion and lack of value on the menu, have resulted in serious hardships for baristas. Starbucks workers are facing mass layoffs and employees who manage to avoid losing their jobs are seeing their hours drastically cut.

“As a union, we are making reasonable demands, such as a wage increase, decent working conditions, and for Starbucks to adhere to their values of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility.’ The company isn’t following these principles, which are the base of our daily work and behavior in the stores,” said Giordano.

Giordano said the union workers in Chile are “glad and proud” to announce their union, and they look forward to more international solidarity with the IWW.

“We believe our purpose will be stronger, as we strive together,” he added.

Supporters of Sindicato de Trabajadores de Starbucks Coffee Chile S.A. can learn more about the effort at: http://sindicatosbux.blogspot.com/. 

With files from starbucksunion.org.

From the June 2009 #1716 Vol 106 No. 5 Issue of the Industrial Worker.

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