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Starbucks workers protest Moms for Liberty

An interview with two unionized Starbucks workers


Tempest member Joel Sronce interviewed Sarah and Silvia, two of the unionized Starbucks workers – from two different stores in different neighborhoods of the city – who showed up in protest against Moms for Liberty. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

Beginning on the last two days of Pride Month, the homophobic, transphobic, and racist organization Moms for Liberty (MFL) held its four-day national summit in downtown Philadelphia. Labeled an “extremist group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), MFL brought its agenda of hate, bigotry, and erasure to Philly. The guest speakers included Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson.

Robinson, the least famous of the four, is no less a bigot. In 2021, the now-gubernatorial candidate for the North Carolina GOP told a congregation at the Asbury Baptist Church in Seagrove, NC, “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth.”

His hateful rhetoric dovetails well with MFL. Under the flimsy guise of advocating for “parental rights” in education, MFL strives to legitimize prejudice in the mainstream. Though only founded in 2021, its membership has grown quickly; according to the SPLC, the group “claims to have 285 chapters in 45 states with membership over 100,000, placing it at the forefront of the anti-student inclusion movement.” The growth comes as no surprise, as MFL’s discriminatory agenda aligns with the greater right-wing push to ban books that address historical racism, to close the door on nonbinary and transgender identities, and to otherwise further oppress already marginalized people.

Such dehumanization – and the attempts to use it to gain political ground – must not be ignored by anyone who believes that everyone should have the chance to live fully and freely. Fortunately (though not surprisingly, given Philly’s recent history of resistance to far-right fuckshits), activists in Philly organized and mobilized to let their resistance and their rage – and equally importantly, their uninhibited joy – be known.

ACT-UP Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Coalition to Stop Hate, and other trans- and queer-led groups and activists organized four days of protest to match the four days of bigotry attempted by MFL. The activists’ events included a Banned Book Giveaway, Dance Party Protests (though you could also say four whole days of dance-party protest!), a Fabulous Families for Freedom Rally, and much more.

A poster in neon pink and blue on black background reads Workers' Rights are trans rights,, starbucks workers united picket and protest against nommes for liberty friday 6/30 1-3 pm location tba
Image courtesy of Joel Sronce.

Hundreds filled the streets outside of the summit, defying MFL’s presence in Philly, as well as the complicity of the police, who arrested at least six of the protesters who showed up against hatred. Pride colors and signs—like “Bad things happen TO FASCISTS in Philadelphia” and “A Book Per Day Keeps the Fascists Away”—were innumerable.

Whoever takes to the streets against divisive, damaging prejudice, whoever holds strong against right-wing hate and state violence, we thank them and we show up beside them every chance we get. And yet one particular group that showed up against MFL in Philly points toward a burgeoning power capable of truly turning the tide.

As socialists, we understand that the path to a better world follows workers collectively and militantly organizing not just for themselves, but against attacks on marginalized communities, too. A better world will rise from radical unions, and workers generally, showing up against any form of oppression and injustice that harms and endangers the lives of any of its members, or anyone in its greater community. In Philly during the July 4th weekend, we saw a glimpse of exactly that. Workers at several Starbucks stores across Philly – united by Starbucks Workers United and Philadelphia Joint Board Workers United – Local 80 – joined anti-fascist protesters in the streets, who gathered to resist the hideous transphobia and other bigotry of MFL.


Joel Sronce: Before getting into this weekend’s activity, I got to interview you both after the [Starbucks workers’] Red Cup Rebellion back in November! How has y’all’s greater struggle developed since then?

Silvia: Since November we’ve continued building power in our store and kept up the pressure with national actions. We’ve become even more cohesive and empowered, which has led to some really inspiring moments in which we held our ground as workers and overcame pressure from management.

Sarah: [The Red Cup Rebellion] was the first strike my store had ever participated in and we’ve been a part of every nationwide strike since then. Getting that initial experience in November has paid off so well, and now we can help other workers and stores get organized. We’re steadily gaining ground all over the place and it definitely feels like we’ve got momentum behind us, especially with how much support we got during Pride. Starbucks has continued to union bust; they’ve cranked it up a notch recently, but we’re not just going to take it sitting down. I have some amazing people by my side who are ready and willing to fight back. The solidarity is coming from all over. It’s great. We’re gonna get that contract because when we fight, we win.

JS: How did your stores get involved in showing up against Moms for Liberty? Starbucks workers have been making headlines for pushing back, and even striking, against management’s anti-LGBTQ policies during Pride Month. How did the broader actions of Starbucks workers nationwide intersect, and even perhaps inspire, y’all’s action last weekend?

Silvia: Local anti-fascist groups organized the protest against Moms for Liberty, and looped us into the plan.

Sarah: As far as I am aware, there hasn’t been anything in Philly stores regarding Pride decorations being taken down, but a handful of stores did an ULP [unfair labor practice] strike in solidarity. Otherwise, Starbucks has been making it more difficult to access trans healthcare benefits entirely due to recent changes in the insurance system. It’s not helping anyone and actively making it harder for people, especially in states like Florida where you’d have to travel outside state lines to get the care you need. Personally, I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this for the union to get involved more in the fight against transphobia, especially since there are so many Starbucks workers who are trans. So, when I heard that 9th & South [one of the unionized Starbucks stores – Eds.] was going to strike and picket, then go to the Marriott to join the protest, I jumped at the opportunity to show up in support and make some fascists afraid. It’s a dark time for marginalized people and organizing a union is one way we can fight back.

JS: Related, what do you see as y’all’s role as unionized workers – and not just at your workplaces but within your communities and beyond – connecting workplace issues to issues of fighting oppression and the attacks from the far right?

Sarah: Well, as baristas we do a lot of talking to people and having conversations with people and treating them with respect, which is a great way to figure out what concerns a person can have and what possible threats to their wellbeing may exist. Engaging with one another on equal footing genuinely and with empathy goes a long way, I think.

Also, there is the fact that we spend a ton of time at work and it’s extremely undemocratic in a country that claims to be all about democracy. Unionizing is one way to get more control back in one’s life.

Silvia: Being organized and militant also means that we can quickly respond to issues outside the workplace. When the violently anti-trans fascists come to town, we can mobilize people to shut them down. This is why the labor movement is so vital, and why this recent union wave is so inspiring. The only power we have to overcome oppression and exploitation is in our numbers, in the structures we build that improve our lives, and the power we take away from those who want to use us, or even kill us.

JS: What was it actually like out on the streets this past weekend? Do you happen to know how many stores and workers showed up this weekend? Do you feel like you were visible as Starbucks workers engaging collectively? Did you see other unions out there?

Sarah: Hot! But fantastic! Positive energy all around; trans joy is beautiful.

Only one store was able to strike that day, but there were around ten of us at the protest from five or so stores. We were definitely visible. We got a shout-out from Samantha Rise while she was on the mic, then she led a labor chant! Felt real good. AFSCME-DC47 was also there!

JS: How do you think you and your co-workers can learn and build from this experience? Do you think it helped to radicalize anyone?

 

9 people stand in front of a storefront holding rainbow signs
Photo by Joel Sronce.

Sarah: It’s gonna be hard to radicalize my co-workers more! They’re all pretty fantastic people. But yeah, I think being a part of a coalition unrelated explicitly to labor was new to most people involved on our side, so it was great to get involved and build relationships with more local organizations and activists.

I’ve always been guided by ‘direct action gets the goods,’ and striking with your friends all organized is a great way to build power to fight the awful everything coming from all avenues. I think the important part of this action specifically is that we aren’t just workers, and we can come under attack for things outside the workplace. But we can use the solidarity we have built through our labor union to fight back against more than just a greedy CEO. We as working-class people have control over only a few things, and our labor is a big one. Withholding that as a group is hard to ignore. A huge part of organizing in my experience is actually giving a shit about people you work with and when people come for your homies, you want to have their back because they have yours. Solidarity is a great and powerful thing.

JS: Do you have reasons to have hope that this wave of Starbucks (and other) workers’ activity will illuminate connections between attacks on LGBTQ (and specifically trans) rights, and all forms of oppression, and of exploitation?

Sarah: The people who are involved in this movement are passionate, caring, and knowledgeable. Not the type to turn a blind eye to oppression in the world. This doesn’t end with just a contract. Workers will take this experience with them into other fights against imbalances of power where they have the chance. When it becomes clear how the company you work for is screwing you over, you start to see how the various other systems are also screwing you over. The police and other public officials – the city council has been very much on our side in Philly though – aiding in Starbucks’ union busting will also make it clear how the interests of the state and of the company align.

Silvia: Union workers at Starbucks recognize that the struggle of transforming our relationship to work and the struggle for queer liberation are the same fight. We have to carve out the things we need to live dignified lives, like gender-affirming care and a livable wage, from these institutions that exist only to extract infinite profit from our labor. The first step towards seizing this better life is to bring Starbucks to the table to sign a contract with us. The visionary proposals we’re bringing to the company have been democratically shaped and written by workers on this campaign for months, and constitute a truly remarkable outline of what work can be, of how we can participate in and be provided for by the institutions we spend our time and energy contributing to.

JS: Where and how can other workers and allies best plug-in?

Sarah: We’re going to keep reaching out to more workers and help them get organized. And keep pressuring the company however we can.

People can sign up for the “No Contract, No Coffee” pledge to get updates and alerts on stuff going on.

Or go to a unionized Starbucks and show your support by wearing a pin or shirt, leaving a tip, or putting your order under “Union Strong” or something like that.

Finally, follow us on the socials: @sbworkersunited on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

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Joel Sronce View All

Joel Sronce is a writer and activist from North Carolina, currently living in Philadelphia.