Hatred for workers

Starbucks Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz is right in one important respect: Many of the problems at Starbucks are larger than Starbucks.[1] During the pandemic, we as a society became meaner—much meaner. As an Uber driver, I had to put up a sign demanding what should be common sense conduct.

I’ve mostly attributed this to political polarization. It was in the run-up to the November 2020 election that I got so fed up with assorted passenger misbehaviors that I felt I had to do something, and so, put up the first version of that sign (it has evolved since). Schultz seems to attribute it instead to the pandemic,[2] which of course was itself enormously political, but also brought to the fore how so-called “essential” workers were also the most expendable.[3]

It wasn’t just medical workers and first responders who were considered “essential.” Uber and Lyft drivers, myself included, worked throughout, as did many food service workers—restaurant staff and grocery store workers—even as many restaurants converted to take-out only. I assume I’ve been exposed to COVID-19 countless times; most other folks do not have my immunity or resistance (I do not expect to ever know whether I am in fact immune or have merely been asymptomatic). The risks we took and the efforts we made have been met with little long-lasting appreciation; we are still low-paid, we are still abused, we are still exploited, we are still expendable.

Some of Starbucks’ problems are apparently due to the supply chain crisis,[4] which is likely a factor in inflation, but also a product of the same anti-union neoliberal ideology that insistently devalues workers (think “race to the bottom”), even as their wages fail to keep up with that inflation.[5] But some of Starbucks’ problems are due to management’s refusal to listen to workers, which is another reason for unionization.[6]

“I’ve never met a businessman like [Howard Schultz],” said Richard Bensinger, a longtime organizer who was working with the Starbucks baristas. “He hates unions more than he loves money.”

Schultz struggled to see his unionizing employees as real workers with actual grievances.[7]

I don’t know about Richard Bensinger, but I would say the same of Amazon and numerous other employers. This anti-union, anti-worker dogma is intrinsic to neoliberal ideology.[8] And this hatred for workers, including myself, whether Schultz admits to it or not,[9] is a reason I can never forgive the Democrats for their persistent embrace of neoliberalism, an intellectually dishonest economic ideology.[10]

Yes, indeed, the problem is larger than Starbucks. But Schultz is a beneficiary of and a significant contributor to that problem.

  1. [1]Greg Jaffe, “Howard Schultz’s fight to stop a Starbucks barista uprising,” Washington Post, October 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/10/08/starbucks-union-ceo-howard-schultz/
  2. [2]Greg Jaffe, “Howard Schultz’s fight to stop a Starbucks barista uprising,” Washington Post, October 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/10/08/starbucks-union-ceo-howard-schultz/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “The expendable worker,” Not Housebroken, April 19, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/07/05/the-expendable-worker/
  4. [4]Greg Jaffe, “Howard Schultz’s fight to stop a Starbucks barista uprising,” Washington Post, October 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/10/08/starbucks-union-ceo-howard-schultz/
  5. [5]David Benfell, “The supply chain shortage starts at the top,” Not Housebroken, February 8, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/10/19/the-supply-chain-shortage-starts-at-the-top/
  6. [6]Greg Jaffe, “Howard Schultz’s fight to stop a Starbucks barista uprising,” Washington Post, October 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/10/08/starbucks-union-ceo-howard-schultz/
  7. [7]Greg Jaffe, “Howard Schultz’s fight to stop a Starbucks barista uprising,” Washington Post, October 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/10/08/starbucks-union-ceo-howard-schultz/
  8. [8]Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2012).
  9. [9]Greg Jaffe, “Howard Schultz’s fight to stop a Starbucks barista uprising,” Washington Post, October 8, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2022/10/08/starbucks-union-ceo-howard-schultz/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “A monster that does not bleed and cannot be killed,” Not Housebroken, June 9, 2022, https://disunitedstates.org/2022/06/09/a-monster-that-does-not-bleed-and-cannot-be-killed/

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