Interview with James


In November, the Miami IWW did an interview

with James, IWW barista, about his experiences

working and organizing. 

Miami IWW- At the sbux you’ve worked at, what’s the demographic of your coworkers?

James- It’s mostly people my age, except most of them still live at home. They are almost all American born and also a majority are students as well.

M- At both shops you’ve worked at?

J- At the shops in Miami, yes. The one I worked at over the summer in north Florida, a few of the people were married and had kids. One person actually had graduated years ago with a masters degree.

M- Had you thought about organizing before joining the IWW at Starbucks?

J- No I didn’t think about it much. But I joined the IWW and started working at Starbucks about the same time.

M- As you started to think about work in that way, what issues came up? Were there any problems that you started seeing you could work around?

J- The problems I wanted to work around was staffing and wages.

M- Were those things that mattered most to you, or was it because that’s what people talked about?

J- Those were what mattered to me; people don’t talk about the problems they have or they act like they don’t have any. But once you ask them about those things, they usually agreed. People are just super content with the status quo. It’s hard to get people to say negative things about Starbuck, but when they do it’s usually about like the corporate structure and how there are just a bunch really rich people, and that’s just the way it is.

M- Were you able to ever agitate people or times when your coworkers challenged conditions at work?

J- Not really, people have been super reluctant to do anything to change their conditions.

M- What’s your sense of that? What have you tried that hasn’t worked?

J- I’ve brought up having more people on the floor, and people really agree, but they don’t think they could change anything. I’ll keep asking people about it, because that issue comes up whenever we get super busy and not enough people to handle it. I’ll try to get a one-on-one with someone about it.

M- Since joining the IWW has your approach changed as you’ve learned about organizing?

J- Yeah totally, I feel like I know more about being tactful when talking to people, listening better, be more observant and knowing how to not alienate people by sounding, to them, like a hard core commie or something.

M- What are the barriers and challenges you see that stop you from getting to actions or committees at work?

J- I think it is just because I need to reach out more people, not just the ones I’ve been talking too. I’m not entirely sure though. Also, I find the temporary nature of this job is limiting. No matter how long people have been at Starbucks, they are always trying to move on to something better, at least in their mind. For example a coworker told me yesterday that the only reason is working at Starbucks is so she can put it on her resume. That’s not a terrible thing, but from hearing stuff like that, I can tell it will be hard to agitate people like that.

M- Anything you would do differently a second time around? Advice for people starting out fresh?

J- I think I would try to learn more about people’s individual situations and figure out what they are all about, outside of work and appeal to those things. For new people (I still try to give myself this advice) I say take your time, nothing happens overnight, learn as much as you can about your coworkers and to form genuine relationships.

M- One last question, what role does your politics play in your organizing at work?

J- Politics always plays a role for me when I’m trying to organizing. I see this all as at least for me all as a learning experience; how to work together with one another, how to produce things, and then I think about if there were no bosses. Building a new world in the shell of the old I guess. Even if I can’t do anything to change the conditions at my workplace now, I am still learning more about myself, other people, capitalism, work, etc. so that I can use them in whatever I do later in life.

M- As you know right now unions, the Democrats, and other electoral political parties are targeting your workplace for reforms. There are a number of legislative proposals aimed specifically at you and your coworkers. What do you think about this? What role do you see for workers organizing in relation to State intervention?


J- I think it would be great to increase in the minimum wage, because it is basically impossible for someone to survive solely on the minimum wage. I feel it is important to emphasize that, because it will do a lot to improve people’s immediate economic situation. However, I do not see that as a way to necessarily advance the working class. Because even if people make more money, it doesn’t change the fact that people are alienated from their work and are unsatisfied with their lives outside of work.

As far as the political side goes, I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into it lately. Most of the liberals really don’t want any type of conflict so raising the minimum wage is just another way to placate working people and to get more votes from them. If workers organized and made demands for themselves instead of by legislators, workers would feel more empowered. But that is difficult, slow, doesn’t generate revenue, not media friendly and not glamorous, so political parties are not willing to do that.

The people that work at Starbucks feel powerless and like they might be stuck with those shitty jobs the rest of their lives, because the economy has very little room for passionate, creative people. A union run by workers can do a lot to affect the workplace, the communities we live in and serve, the schools we study at, etc. Also, I feel like the Starbucks PR machine would only spin a minimum wage increase to make it look like they supported it all the time, that they care about their “partners” [1], are enthusiastic to comply with minimum wage laws, and even go above them (even if it is just 20 cents an hour). They did the same thing for Obamacare. They sent out all kinds of “look at all these new health care options” propaganda, while they are still really expensive for workers at Starbucks, and you have no guaranteed hours, no sick days, etc.

[1] Starbucks call employees partners in an attempt to portray their workers as invested in and a part of the company rather than dominated by it.