Skip to content or view screen version

Edinburgh Starbucks Picket

Tom Allan | 13.01.2005 17:21 | Globalisation | Social Struggles | Workers' Movements | Zapatista

Supporters of the Zapatista’s, and the International Workers of the World joined forces in Edinburgh to picket Starbuck’s on the Royal mile for the second time on Saturday the eighth of January. Ignoring the cold, they handed out steaming cups of free fairtrade coffee from Chiapas to passing punters, and tried to persuade them not to go into the café. AUDIO AND PICS BELOW

Eddie, Edinburgh IWW secretary, explained that they were supporting the efforts of IWW union organisers in the New York. One of them, Dan Gross, had been arrested after demonstrating outside the Starbucks where he worked.

The workers are demanding better pay and conditions, but more importantly, secure hours. It seems it is company policy to leave hours flexible, so a worker never knows how much they will be earning in the next week. It may also have the added advantage for the company that they don’t have to supply medical insurance for the staff who do not work the requisite number of days to qualify for company cover. Starbuck’s has become well known in the US as a progressive company because it offers free cover to its long –term staff. It would be interesting to see figures that showed how many of their employees actually ever qualified for it.

Next, I talked to Neil and Jorge of the Edinburgh Chiapas Solidarity Group. Neil explained how the Zapatista’s had taken control of the land in much of Chiapas, historically an area dominated by large landowners. The coffee is now being grown by small-scale farmers, or in grass-roots co-operatives. Jorge said he was supporting the Zapatista’s because they offered an inspiring example of how people can organise themselves at the grass-roots and take control of their lives. But he, like all the people I spoke to, had not communicated with the workers inside the Starbucks.

Unfortunately the manager of the Starbucks Cafe refused an interview, saying that neither he, nor the staff, where allowed to speak to the press as a matter of company policy. (He suggested I contact their PR office – which I may get round to next week.) But then he went back to his office - so I interviewed some of the workers anyway, anonomously.

They didn’t really feel like the demonstration had anything to do with them. They were getting paid over five pounds an hour (significantly more than workers in New York, who bring home $7.75 basic wage, 3 pound 85) and felt the conditions were pretty good. As students, the precarious nature of such jobs is much less of a burden – indeed, part time, seasonal and short-term work is exactly what you want for a job on the side when you’re studying. They had talked to some of the protesters, but not enough to really have a sense of what the issues where – either of the conditions of US Starbucks workers, or the (admittedly convoluted) links between Starbucks,

Whilst the picket is a creative and effective way of informing people about the Zapatista’s, and about Starbuck’s hostility towards unionisation , this failure to communicate with the workers in Edinburgh is ironic. To be picketing a company about it’s treatment of workers, but to not have the support of the workers there, is problematic

Tom Allan


Display the following comment

  1. getting through to the workers — Bob Lockhart