Starbucks Workers United has not yet asked supporters to stop frequenting Starbucks locations. But unionized workers have been ramping up customer solidarity organizing, potentially laying the groundwork for a Starbucks boycott.

by Faith Bennett, Jacobin

Given the growing popularity of the hashtag “#boycottstarbucks,” social media users could be forgiven for thinking that unionized Starbucks workers are making an explicit demand for customers to lay off the lattes. In truth, they aren’t — for now. But Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) is teasing the idea, provocatively calling its customer solidarity pledge “No Contracts, No Coffee.” And certainly many individual Starbucks baristas might encourage you to spend your money elsewhere amid a corporate avalanche of unfair labor practices (ULPs).

In the wake of both a recent SBWU day of action and Cornell University’s announcement of plans to cut ties with the corporation, SBWU field organizer Daisy Pitkin said in a statement, “Our campaign hasn’t yet called for a boycott, though it’s clear that Starbucks customers are fed up with the company’s union busting and are ready to take action.” The campaign expressed the need for and appreciation of customer solidarity as it has been demonstrated through past store adoptions and the customer pledge. “We understand the power of consumers in our fight for a better Starbucks,” said Pitkin. “Their solidarity is part of how we will win our fight for a union and a fair first contract.”

Activists march at the Starbucks Worker Solidarity Rally in support of unionization for baristas and other retail workers.

SBWU’s September 14 day of action relied heavily on customer solidarity, thought it did not explicitly encourage or discourage patronage of the business. “Thousands of our allies and supporters showed up at nearly 750 Starbucks stores across the country,” summarized Pitkin, “and talked with tens of thousands of customers about Starbucks’ egregious union busting.” The primary deliverable of this action was a massive petition to CEO Laxman Narasimhan, demanding he come to the table to bargain in good faith with unionized workers. The large nationwide showing also served as a notable escalation of scale from prior actions, and a potential structure test for a future boycott.

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