Starbucks Targeted for Anti-Union Activity

Over the past several years, has regularly reported on efforts aimed at organizing Starbucks workers both here in Grand Rapids and around the country. The Starbucks Workers Union just celebrated its fifth anniversary despite an ongoing campaign of anti-union intimidation by Starbucks.

Since the union’s formation, Starbucks has been convicted multiple times of violating the National Labor Relations Act. At the same time it is waging this aggressive anti-union campaign, Starbucks is also working to prevent the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that would make it easier to form unions. The Act would also increase sanctions against companies like Starbucks.

Brave New Films has produced a very good short video that looks at organizing efforts at Starbucks and the company’s anti-union behavior:

In addition to the film, Brave New Films has also launched a new website, that aims to place the company under increased scrutiny.

As part of the new website, there is a petition that demands that Starbucks allow its employees to form unions and asks that it stop opposing the Employee Free Choice Act. Signing it is a great way to follow-up on the organizing done by the Grand Rapids Starbucks Workers Union.

Economist Dean Baker at the Michigan Policy Summit

Economist Dean Baker, the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., was the keynote speaker at the 2009 Michigan Policy Summit in Detroit on Saturday, May 16, 2009. Baker has a Ph.d. in Economics from the University of Michigan and blogs for the American Prospect.

Baker’s talk:

Note: This video was submitted to us by Thomas Rico, you can check out his blog for more related video at

Starbucks Workers Union Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Starbucks Workers Union

The Starbucks Workers Union–which has been active here in Grand Rapids–celebrated its fifth anniversary on May 17. To commemorate the union and its organizing efforts to improve conditions for Starbucks baristas, the Union issued the following statement:

May 17, 2009 marks five years since baristas at a Starbucks in New York City announced their membership in the Industrial Workers of the World and launched a campaign open to employees throughout the company. A worker-led organizing effort with the legendary IWW at the world’s largest coffee chain could have been a flash in the pan- brilliant and inspiring, but brief. But a fire was lit and a movement began. The idea that Starbucks workers could organize themselves and speak in their own voice, independent of company executives and union bureaucrats, could not be restrained.

The bosses did their best to defeat us, to bury any indication of our existence under a heap of lies and retaliatory firings. They tried to stamp us out, even as the campaign for secure jobs and a living wage burst from New York into Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and beyond.

While Starbucks used the economic crisis as a pretext for an all-out assault on our already meager standard of living, our struggle gained momentum this year amidst a stark decline of the company’s brand and widespread store closures. Baristas around the country and around the world made the decision to organize and fight back against severe cuts in work hours, chronic under staffing, and a new “Optimal Scheduling” program which forces many workers to be available to Starbucks for over 80 hours a week without being guaranteed a single work hour.

This journey has been full of set-backs and tests of will. Progress has been made yet much remains to be done. But one thing is certain: our voice for dignity is firmly planted and our union’s future is bright.

The biggest battles remain ahead, but every day our ranks deepen. We are confident in our solidarity and could not be more proud to be associated with our fellow workers across the IWW and like-minded unionists around the world. This year, courageous baristas in Chile became the first Starbucks workers in Latin America to raise a union banner.

The corporate-controlled economic, social, and political model has been exposed everywhere as a failure for working families. And everyday workers are bolder and more assertive in the fight against injustice and exploitation. The notion that democracy has no place at work has been exposed as a lie.

To every worker who loves liberty: this is our time!

Together we organize. Together we struggle. Together we win!

National Media Day of Action on Afghanistan


United for Peace and Justice has announced a new action that they are hoping will increase opposition to the Afghanistan War and raise awareness about the realities of the war. The group is facilitating a “National Media Day of Action on Afghanistan” on Thursday, May 21. The goal of the action is simple: change public opinion about the war by getting anti-war editorials, articles, and opinion pieces published in news outlets across the United States.

The group has put together a helpful series of guides to using the media. These include tips on how make the most of newspapers, radio, and online media as well as factsheets and other resources (including pre-written letters) that can help activists work with the media. The group is placing a special focus on online media, with ideas on how to use Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace–all of which are simple and effective ways for spreading your message.

This is certainly something that readers of should consider participating in. The local media outlets in Grand Rapids–The Grand Rapids Press, WOOD TV, WZZM 13, and WXMI 17–run relatively little coverage of the Afghanistan War. Almost completely absent from what coverage they do run is opposition to the war. It doesn’t take that long to write a letter to the editor or to email the media outlets asking them to improve their coverage–and it’s a necessary step if we’re going to build opposition to the war.

United for Peace and Justice would like to know what people do on the 21st, so if you contact a media outlet, be sure to let them know.

Earth First! Roadshow Visits Grand Rapids


Over the weekend, the Earth First! Roadshow made a stop in Grand Rapids, offering two days of presentations and trainings pertaining to the radical environmental movement in the United States. From the site of the group erecting a tripod–a device used to blockade roads (whether they be logging roads in areas slated to be clearcut or urban roads during mass protests)–to a puppet show on “security culture,” the Roadshow provided an interesting and inspiring look at resistance to the destruction of the earth.

On Friday, the group gave a presentation at the Division Avenue Arts Co-Operative (The DAAC) that highlighted the successes of the Earth First! movement over the years. They shared a number of photos, stories of resistance, and highlighted victories one. The group discussed many current threats to the environment and shared a “Map of Resistance” that highlighted all of the great organizing work that has been done over the past few years. In addition, the group also talked about the Green Scare–a campaign aimed at marginalizing and/or imprisoning environmental activists as prisoners.

On Saturday, the group headed to Wilcox Park–also the site of a community picnic and the Really, Really Free Market–to host a day of workshops. There were incredibly helpful workshops and trainings on consensus and facilitation, knowing your legal rights to protest, and green capitalism. The group also provided basic tree climbing and tripod climbing training–tactics which can be used to prevent areas from being logged.

Throughout the two days, I was inspired by the stories of resistance that were shared, the catalog of victories one, and the need to confront the destruction of the earth. Here in Michigan, we face several major threats–sulfide mining in the Upper Peninsula, the possible expansion of nuclear power, the construction of several new coal plants, and the privatization of water by companies such as Ice Mountain. In many cases, traditional environmental activism–petitions, boycotts, lobbying, attending public hearings, and other such tactics–have achieved some important successes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if these projects would be defeated–not just stalled–if there was a strong radical environmental movement in Michigan. In the 1990s, Earth First! successfully used tree sits, blockades, and other tactics to stop logging in old growth forests–what if the same dramatic tactics were used here?

The Roadshow was undertaken in part as an effort to revitalize the radical environmental movement in the United States. Even as the threats to the earth continue to grow, the movement has declined in prominence. While new groups and new organizing pops up every day, it is largely detached from the history of struggles that preceded it. The history of Earth First! is one of success against difficult odds–hopefully the tour succeeds in inspiring renewed resistance.

For those wishing to learn more about Earth First!, visit the Earth First! Journal. It’s a quarterly publication that features a wide variety of articles chronicling environmental activism in the United States.

Midland Coal Plant Stopped


Over the past two years, we’ve reported on plans to build several new coal-fired power plants in Michigan. However, these plans have been the target of strong opposition from grassroots activists across the state.

We’re happy to hear that one of the plants–proposed for Midland, Michigan–will no longer be built. Mid-Michigan Energy, a subsidiary of LS Power, halted plans to pursue the plant citing regulatory and economic uncertainty. In recent months, the EPA has indicated that it will likely begin to regulate carbon emissions, while Governor Jennifer Granholm has ordered all companies planning to build coal-fired power plants to head back to the drawing boards to see if alternative power sources could meet the state’s needs.

Activists with the Midland group Midland Cares welcomed the news and said that it is an opportunity to pursue alternative energy sources. In response to the news, the statewide coalition Clean Energy Now said that it was due to the work of grassroots activists who educated, organized, and applied pressure on government leaders and Mid-Michigan Energy that the coal plant was not built.

Earlier this year, another planned coal plant in Marquette, Michigan was rejected by the EPA.

May Day: Celebrate Workers Power


Today is May Day, a day that around the world is celebrated as a celebration of workers’ rights and the power of collective action. In Europe, protestors celebrated the social and economic gains of the labor movement, while also criticizing the world’s elites over the economic crisis.

In the United States, we’ve largely forgotten that history with May Day’s relationship to workers’ rights being scrubbed in the 1950s hysteria over communism and instead christened “Loyalty Day”.

When we lost that history, working people lost part of an inspiring history of grassroots action. Things like the 8-hour day, the end to child labor, and the right to collectively bargain all came out of the struggles of unionized and non-unionized workers and their allies. Radical historian Howard Zinn said in a recent interview:

“Think back to 1886,” he urged, ” … that last part of the nineteenth century, when corporations were growing more and more powerful … And workers were working ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day in factories, and mills, and mines.” “Particularly in the period, in the 1880s, workers decided they would have to win the eight-hour day by their own efforts, by direct action, by going on strike. And they did, they went on strike all over the country. And the result was, they did win the eight-hour day in many places at that time.”

“It wasn’t written into law … until the 1930s, until the New Deal. But it was the unions, the strikers, who did it first. And so it’s very important to understand that May Day is a symbol of protest against terrible working conditions, and of workers’ solidarity to change that.”

So celebrate today as a day of power, and more importantly, (re)commit yourself to the struggle for social justice. Join a progressive group in West Michigan, call your legislators in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (which would make it easier for workers to form unions), or start a new group or project. History shows us that we have the power to change things–we just need to make the effort.

It’s also worth noting that in recent years, May Day has had a resurgence in the U.S. as a day of protest in support of immigrant rights. Since 2006, massive protests have taken place annually in cities across the United States that have in many cases link immigrant rights and workers rights and forged a broader sense of solidarity across movements.

Animal Advocates Win Victory in Montcalm County


Back in January, reported on an ongoing debate in Montcalm County north of Grand Rapids over animal research and the county’s relationship to it. At the time, Montcalm County had just decided to temporarily renew a contract with R & R Research.

Animal advocates have long been critical of a relationship between R & R and the county. R & R received unwanted animals from the county in exchange for disposing of the county’s euthanized animals. Last year, that meant around 150 animals went to R & R. It later sells those animals to research facilities including colleges and hospitals. R & R is under investigation for how it obtains animals by the USDA, while critics charge that the company improperly obtains animals, including pets.

We’re happy to report that following the review of an ad-hoc committee, Montcalm County has decided to end its 30-year relationship with the business.

In response, animal advocates with the group Concerned Citizens Coalition Montcalm posted the following message on their website:

WE WON!!!!!!!!!

In a 6-3 vote on Monday, April 27th, Montcalm County commissioners voted to end the contract with R&R Research!! We had over 80 people at our rally and well over 150 at the commissioners meeting! Because of all of you, our pets will no longer be sold by a Class B Dealer to be used for research!!

Thank you ALL for your support!!!

Unfortunately, it isn’t too often that gets to report on victories, so let’s savor this as an example of what can be done when people undertake solid grassroots organizing campaigns.

Organizers plan to continue their work, shifting focus to a Michigan House of Representatives bill that would ban “animal dealers” from taking animals from public shelters and selling them for research.

Finding Our Roots Conferences Explores Anarchism and “Space”


This past weekend, I traveled to Chicago to attend the Finding Our Roots Conference at Roosevelt University. This is the third year the anarchist conference on praxis and organizing has been held. The theme of the conference this year was space:

“Why and how is space important to the theory and practice of anarchism; what is ‘anarchist space’? How are anarchists involved in struggles around space, both within and beyond our community? How is space central to the struggles of oppressed and marginalized groups? How does space operate within the social landscape and machinations of capitalism, as well as within resistance to capitalism?”

Obviously, this is an extremely broad category, and therefore a variety of topics were covered over the weekend. A schedule, including descriptions of each workshop, can be found on the website linked above. There were typically about four workshops during each time slot, so I was only able to attend a fraction of the total workshops offered. What follows are brief overviews of some of what was covered.

Gentrification: Containment, Displacement, Yuppie Infestations, and the Resistance to Come

This workshop, facilitated by Fancy and Ezra, began with a brief history of gentrification, going back to the 1930s when racist government policy equated a nonwhite person living in a house to the same “damage” as a tree falling. The group agreed that the definition of gentrification involves displacement of a group of (nonwhite) people in cities. Fancy noted that many people falsely equate white flight to gentrification, and therefore it is viewed by the public as a natural result of the market, when in fact realtors and city officials tend to target certain neighborhoods.

The discussion turned toward resistance. One attendee brought up the importance of providing services for community members when the city cuts them off – access to food, health care, or whatever is needed. A DuPaul professor talked about his work in the Pilson neighborhood, where his students go and talk to the residents, helping those who do not speak English to develop well reasoned arguments against gentrification and its effects.

Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid will result in gentrification of the Washington Park neighborhood. It was brought up that even if Chicago does not win the bid, the neighborhood will be still be gentrified due to Tax Increment Finance Money.

Mad Liberation and Safe Space

Facilitated by the Mad Tea Party group of Chicago, this workshop was about creating safe spaces where those who struggle with mental illness can have autonomy over their own recovery.

It was noted that “madness” cannot be separated from our culture. One person shared his experience in the mental health system, in which he worked a menial job six days a week that made him depressed and exacerbated his struggles. Upon seeking help, he found himself in an institution where the end goal was to get him back into a job – he recognized this as a form of oppression.

Several people expressed concern that the issue of mental health is one that gets pushed to the side in anarchist organizing. In response to this, groups have been formed in Chicago (and, I’m sure, in many other cities) to provide peer support, such as The Icarus Project).

Collective Living Spaces: A Roundtable Discussion

Much of this discussion was based around common problems and issues that arise in collective housing and how to deal with these, either preemptively or after the fact.

The goals for many who choose to live in collective houses are to find an alternative to patriarchy in their living space (as opposed to traditional family structures), and to live out a microcosm of what one wants to see in the world.

Security was the biggest issue for many. Several houses had protocol for how to deal with cops, took batteries out their cell phones during meetings, did not allow pictures of the space to appear on the internet, did not allow drugs or alcohol, and had a zero tolerance policy for any perpetrators of sexual and/or violent assault. People had differing opinions on the question of whether it is ever acceptable to call the police.

The Seizure of Space and the Public Sphere: Enduring Lessons from the Zapatistas

Facilitated by Richard Gilman-Opalsky, author of Unbounded Publics: Transgressive Public Spheres, Zapatismo, and Political Theory, we examined the example of the Zapatistas in Mexico, who, rather than seize the state, chose to live in an autonomous communities, taking public space and making visible an alternative way to live. Opalsky critiqued the recent actions in Greece, viewing the Zapatista model as a more effect tool for change.

The discussion turned to indigenous struggles in the U.S., such as the Lakota Indians in South Dakota, who continue to struggle in the Black Hills.

Creating Safe Space in an Unsafe World: Supporting Survivors Whilst Respecting Their Autonomy

The discussion in this workshop, facilitated by Bash Back Chicago, began with a talk about community, and learning to create a community where it becomes OK to call people out on inappropriate behavior, to create accountability for people’s actions – particularly for male bodied people to call out other male bodied people. There was extensive discussion of whether community needs can ever trump a survivor’s expressed desires – for example, if the survivor did not want the perpetrator to be dealt with, but community members feared for their safety.

People shared stories about their own experiences, as survivors, support givers, etc. The workshop concluded by talking about the importance of connecting dominant power structures to sexual violence, and reclamation of power.

Sobriety Within The Struggle

Attended by people from a variety of viewpoints (straight edge, those who do drink, etc.), there was a lot of productive discussion in this workshop. Many who abstain from substances spoke about their concerns: that it was hard to organize when people attended meetings hung over and stoned, that it was alienating and detracted from community. There was expressed frustration at peoples’ interpretations of “sober spaces” – that people would just drink or do drugs beforehand, and show up intoxicated. Others were frustrated that self identified anarchists, who hate capitalism and avoid it in every other way, support huge alcohol and tobacco companies when they party.

There was also a discussion of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which most everyone agreed was a destructive group, in which a certain set of morals was forced on its participants, who were told they would never be sober without belief in a higher power.

Overall, the conference was a great chance for discussion and to meet other like-minded folks living in the Midwest.

The Nation Guide to the Nation

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For anyone that has traveled–or has browsed through bookstores–you’ve likely seen the large number of resources dedicated to publicizing tourist traps and offering the so-called “insider” information about any number of cities. The Nation Guide to the Nation takes that approach and highlights historical sites, projects, bookstores, and other places and events that would interest leftist travelers.

The book is divided into five sections–“Culture,” “The Media Gallery,” “Organize!,” “Goods and Services,” and “Social: Connecting”–that catalog a wide variety things pertaining to “the left” in the United States. In the introduction, the editors write that this book is for:

“People of the left-liberal-radical persuasion (the kind of people who read The Nation) who find themselves in some red state backwater hungering for kindred spirits, for community, for folks who’ll help them organize an antiwar rally or a fund-raiser or a peace march or a discussion group or a food co-op.”

That said–it certainly has the potential to deliver on its goals. Whether you are travelling and want to check out some new and inspiring projects (for example, food cooperatives, radical printers, or independent media centers) or wanting to find people in your own to work with, its resources are helpful. For the most part, they are organized logically using broad categories and then smaller categories to narrow down the listings even more. My only complaint is that it might have been easier to organize resources by state in some sections so that people could find out about new things in their own area. Nevertheless, the breadth of the listings are impressive–it contains projects of different political persuasions including anarchists, socialists, and more traditional liberals. Moreover, these projects cut across a wide variety of areas covering everything from organizing hubs to green architects. I’d say that while there are obviously some things left out that could have been added, the book largely succeeds in being a catalog of the left.

Even if you aren’t planning to go anywhere soon to check out new places, the book can be a helpful resource. It catalogs some of the best of the leftist websites on the Internet, indentifies organizations working for social change, and identifies places where you can purchase goods produced in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner. Reading about places in far away cities–or even interesting websites–could easily inspire readers to take on new projects in their own areas.

Overall, The Nation Guide to the Nation is a good introduction to left and progressive politics in the United States. From its exploration of art collectives to websites, the book lists a wealth of resources, a number of which are almost sure to be new to any reader who picks up the book regardless of how long they have been involved in leftist politics.

Richard Lingeman and the Editors of The Nation, The Nation Guide to the Nation, (Vintage, 2009).