Strike activity beginning in “Striketober” through today, with an emphasis on the University of California-American Federation of Labor Lecturers strike movement and Starbucks workers’ ongoing unionization struggle — Editors
The month of October 2021 has come to be termed “Striketober” for the unprecedented number of unions going on strike for better working conditions. Across the nation, workers in factories, universities, the food-service industry, and even Orange County, California’s (my hometown’s) sanitation workers have refused to work – and rightfully so. Not only has the pandemic exposed the great inequalities that exist between racial groups as well as between the working and ruling class – it has heightened them. As the cost of living continues to outpace the minimum wage and the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats hide behind the Senate Parliamentarian in regard to it, the workers have been given no other option.
Perhaps the most well-known of these strikes are at the Kellogg’s and John Deere factories. Information on these, as well as the strike at Riot Games, can be found here. This article will focus primarily on the development of the UC-AFT Lecturers strike movement that occurred across the University of California campuses in November and the unionization of Starbucks workers in Buffalo in December.
After weeks of union activity across the University of California campuses, the UC Regents finally came to the table and offered a fairer contract. The lecturers’ union for the University of California, UC-AFT, was prepared to engage in a two-day, system-wide strike. This strike would have halted all grading, lecturing, research, or work done by lecturers; however, in the early morning hours of November 17, perhaps between three or four PST, on the day of the would-be strike, the UC system finally came to the table and offered a fairer contract. A variety of factors likely influenced this outcome, primarily the hard work of the lecturers, union organizers, and would-be-strikers.
Over 90% of lecturers across the ten campuses voted to strike. There was a strong turnout of students attending demonstrations in support of lecturers and a potential strike. This included demonstrations at UCSB’s Storke Tower, UCLA’s Bruin Plaza, and a UC Riverside parking structure, to name a few. The mounting publicity, political pressure, and solidarity from regular faculty and local leftist organizations across the UC campuses was also a factor contributing to the victory. What all of this demonstrates is the strength of the working class when it stands united and when we as leftists actively stand with and support workers.
Some of the key reasons cited by lecturers and organizers for the strike was the lack of a fair and long-term contract, lack of parental leave, and low pay. Prior to the victory, the university could hire and/or fire lecturers just prior to the beginning of the semester or quarter with little-to-no notice; however, now the lecturers become eligible for a full one-year contract with the ability to extend and be considered before an outsider hire. Pay increases include a $1500 signing bonus as well as pay increases over the length of their time working for the university. As of January 1st, 2022, a 7% general range adjustment will take effect. Further, the UC must now provide better notice of hiring/firing procedures and the qualifications for paid parental leave, which were virtually impossible for a lecturer to meet, are now much less rigorous. The university also agreed to increase the quality of general healthcare provided.
Just how the UC will live up to their end of the bargain remains to be seen, and it must be watched with great scrutiny. Based on their behavior just prior to the strike – their refusing to bargain, which enabled the strike, their radio silence on the issues, and their eleventh-hour agreement – it is not unfair to characterize them as having acted in bad faith or to assume they will continue such behavior. This is commonly how corporations engage with unions and their workers. They obviously do not want to pay them more, increasing their variable costs, or improve their conditions or healthcare, which would increase their fixed costs. The workers’ needs are antithetical to the capitalists’ existence. This is true of corporations like Kellogg’s or Starbucks but also institutions like the University of California.
As a student, it is absolutely sickening this is how my tuition is spent. Not to the benefit of the people actually providing me with an education, but rather to President Michael Drake’s salary increase. The university announced a “forever-tuition hike” but was still arguing that they could not afford the demands of the lecturers. The lies and actions of the university demonstrate how entrenched the capitalist framework is in our society. Education, something that is supposed to be for the personal development of the society, has been commodified and the institutions are ran as for-profit corporations. Despite the union-busting and bad-faith efforts on the part of the Regents of the University of California, a huge victory was achieved. The same is true of Starbucks and their ongoing unionization efforts.
As of December 9th, 2021, the first Starbucks in the U.S. was unionized! On December 12th, 2021, Twitter user @jazbrisack tweeted out a small thread on working at the first unionized Starbucks. She was delighted and as were many of the customers, both regulars and first-timers who were excited the store was unionizing. The twitter associated with the strike, @SBWorkersUnited, actively tweets out information relating to the December 9th Union Vote, which passed 19-8. Leading Progressive figures in the Democratic Party, such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, celebrated the victory. Perhaps they will channel this momentum into passing the PRO Act, but this remains to be seen.
What is clear, though, is that the Buffalo Starbucks’s Unionization is spreading throughout other stores in the country. Starbucks has already deployed union-busters at the three other Buffalo stores. Reports of unionizing efforts occurring throughout New York as well as in Boston are coming in. @SBWorkersUnited retweeted a thread from user @Lilmamarae, a Starbucks employee in Amherst, NY. @Lilmamarae shares information about anti-union efforts on behalf of Starbucks, whose representatives argue benefits like free Spotify or online classes through Arizona State University should be enough for them. The unionization of the Buffalo Starbucks, however, shows it is not enough. Better wages and healthcare are obviously preferable. Perhaps most ominously, the union-busters who came into the Amherst Starbucks said they should “wait and see before voting” (referring to the Buffalo Starbucks).
Starbucks, perhaps more than any other corporation, preaches they are “Partners” and family who benefit from each other in a perfect harmony. Any Starbucks worker will tell you what an utter lie that is. However, they will continue to cloak their anti-union and anti-worker sentiments and directives with this familial lie.
The same can be said of the University of California… and of Kellogg’s… and of Amazon… and of every corporation, really. The capitalist drive for profit will always immiserate the worker simply because profit is derived from the exploitation of the working person. “Striketober” persists not because of COVID-19’s effects on the economy or over-demanding workers, but because of people who have been impoverished, exploited, and/or expropriated by the capitalist system. “Striketober” persists because of the inherent contradiction between worker and boss, oppressed and oppressor. The current momentum of the labor movement in the U.S. which began in October is an important assertion of the working class is antagonistic to capital. From lecturers to baristas to sanitation workers or food processors, workers around this country are showing the U.S. ruling elites their might – may they tremble.