Say NO to a “No-Strike Clause.” Starbucks looks to negotiate away workers freedom to strike.

The Starbucks Workers United union is well into the bargaining process with the Starbucks corporation. As of today, delegates are preparing for what will be several months into the foreseeable future of extended negotiations before finalizing any contract for US Starbucks cafes. In the union’s recent meetings with Starbucks, the beginnings of a national framework for a union contract were discussed. Starbucks was quick to specify very early that they want a rigidly oppressive “no-strike clause.” They made it clear how eager they are to disarm union workers of their strongest weapon right off the bat. With a base proposal of a no-strike clause, they purposefully lay the foundation that if a contract is ever reached, regardless of how strong the reforms, workers are both intimidated and utterly powerless on a legal basis to combat retaliation from the company or to defend their working conditions for the duration of the contract. Starbucks and other corporations in modern union negotiations make a no-strike clause their first priority because they fear, and aim to stall as directly as possible with other union reformisms, the prospect of a new generation of young militant workers, who with the means of struggle to challenge capitalist exploitation, can revive a militant labor movement.

Starbucks’ first national contract proposal offered to SBWU bargaining committee
Starbucks’ first national contract proposal offered to SBWU bargaining committee

During a bargaining training session, this response by the company was shown to over 100 rank and file Starbucks delegates. There was decisively no pushback from the union leadership against the no-strike clause, or even a formal opportunity for delegates to raise questions and criticism of it. The training session was for the purposes of laying the grounds for a streamlined procedural narrative in regards to how our contract negotiations will develop, with the delegates in a position of acquiescence and the collaborationist union leadership in a position of incontestable influence. To the union leadership, the delegates are to only act as functionaries to deliver contract proposals written out almost a year ago, and are to play no role in expressing opinions on the actual bargaining narratives and proposals, be they egregious attacks on the workers, or poorly written contract language that will not pass a vote. Nevertheless, the lecture stands opposed to an alternative; for example, providing an interactive session between higher union representatives and the experienced shop floor delegates to wrestle with the proposals, exposing the naked attack on workers, making it explicit that we will have no no-strike clause, and evaluate the real strength of our union in negotiations if leadership looks to gloss over the immediate bargaining away our ability to strike to a petty coffee company.

The first no-strike clause was adopted in the 1940s during World War II as bosses feared the growing strength of the working class in the United States. Collaborationist union leadership of the time were also enticed by an end to the strike waves, referring to the no-strike clause a period of “labor peace,” and reached the imaginary conclusion of a “harmonious relationship between union and management.” This policy line in practice is tantamount to corruption, bribery, and absolute betrayal of the working class. It is impossible for the working class and ruling class to reconcile opposing interests. This is reflected in part by collective bargaining agreements; the legal code written by class collaborationists serves to moderate and exacerbate class oppression. No-strike clauses have become very common in labor contracts with 90% of new union contracts containing a no-strike clause. While no-strike clauses have become ‘the norm’ so to speak at the lowest point of a generational onslaught of unions by the capitalist class in cooperation with trade union bureaucracy, it by no means confines workers to a continuation of this liberal tradition of relinquishing the worker’s most basic means of struggle. For the development of the working class, the no-strike clause needs to go.

Without proper union leadership, workers themselves will need to organize to defend their freedom to strike, and underscore the importance of the strike as a tool for leveraging power from the capitalist class. Union representatives of business unionism will give moral condemnation of the company and little else before submitting to humiliating defeats in negotiations. Without militant class unions, workers will have to work diligently to expose the failures of business unionism as contract difficulties arise, and aim to provide to workers class union leadership that escalates the fight against the capitalist class. In having international solidarity with the working people across nation borders, it is our challenge in the United States to form the most effective class unions possible to combat the destructive consequences of imperialism. This means we must have an appropriate attitude towards the defense of our strikes, and create strike-ready organizations that refuse to provide labor most demanded of imperial interests. We need a vision that goes well beyond union reformism, and see our enemy as the capitalist class itself. Reformism ultimately leads to weak momentary contract benefits that seek to lull the working class to sleep while a union bureaucracy gains influence with the capitalist state. This relationship surrenders the revolutionary potential of trade unions to become a reactionary tool for the ruling class. Workers will need to see the strike as their choice to make as well as the question of when and how long they will strike. It cannot be a seasonal option that arises when contracts expire and employers are then comfortable enough. A union benefits us all when it’s mobilizing workers from all job sectors against capitalist exploitation, and to do that in action we must be able to strike together.

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