Wobbly Union Gets Support

City Council sides with Industrial Workers of the World in dispute with Starbucks

You may soon be able to get a shot of “anarcho-syndicalism” with your mocha Frappuccino, if the Cambridge City Council has its way.

In its meeting last night, the council passed a resolution supporting the right of Starbucks employees to organize under the aegis of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or "Wobblies," a union made famous in the early 20th century for a brand of radical socialism known as “anarcho-syndicalism.” The IWW advocates “aboliton of the wage system” on its website.

“Starbucks is an international corporation with many assets, and millions and millions of dollars, [and] they should refrain from interfering with the workers right to organize,” the resolution reads.

Labor organizing efforts began in 2004 with the founding of the Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) in New York City. The group sought a living wage and consistent work hours for Starbucks employees. They also claimed that Starbucks facilities violated local health codes.

Organizers claim that they have experienced systematic intimidation from Starbucks management over the past four years. However, the organizers also take credit for the wage increases that baristas across the U.S. and Canada received this September.

Starbucks officials did not return a request for comment. But in a statement on its website, Starbucks touts its “top tier” wages and “extensive” health plan. “Starbucks does not take action or retaliate against partners who might be interested or take part in union activity,” says the statement, dated Dec. 2, 2005.

Although official Starbucks unions exist only in New York and Chicago, John MacLean, a union organizer present at the council meeting, said he hopes Boston will soon follow.

“We have people inside, undercover,” he said. “We’re trying to build groups in stores, so a cluster of workers can confront their manager with a list of demands.”

Charles Fostrom, a former barista in New York who claims he was fired because of his union activism, also spoke at the meeting in support of the resolution.

“Starbucks has said the union doesn’t exist, harassed and intimidated baristas who try to organize, and refused to listen to our demands,” he said.

Several customers at Starbucks’ branch in the Garage shopping center on JFK Street said they supported the council’s gesture.

“I think Starbucks is oversaturating the market, and if they have that much business, there won’t be a need for workers that want more money,” said Matthew F. Cammarata, a senior at Boston College, as he sipped one of the chain’s blended drinks.

Also during the public comment part of the meeting, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen spoke out in opposition to his neighbor’s petition for a curb cut to expand a driveway.

“We are concerned about the adverse affects of this curb cut for our trees,” Sen, who holds the Lamont University Professorship at Harvard, told the council.

—Staff writer Virginia A. Fisher can be reached at vafisher@fas.harvard.edu. —Staff writer Nicholas K. Tabor can be reached at ntabor@fas.harvard.edu.