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December 16, 2021
Re: The Sudanese people won’t surrender; a small union victory at Starbucks
- New organizations persist in struggle against the military coup in Sudan
- The Starbucks Elmwood shop votes to unionize
by Pete Brown, Detroit Workers’ Voice
The struggle for democratization continues in Sudan despite the prime minister’s deals with the military. On October 25th the ruling generals decided to set aside the civilian side of the government and carried out a coup. They rounded up civilian government leaders, placed some in jail and others under house arrest. This came on the same day that the generals were supposed to cede power to a civilian legislative body in preparation for elections to be held in 2023. But the generals couldn’t tolerate the idea of civilian politicians telling them what to do, especially since it meant possibly submitting crimes of the military to a commission of inquiry.
But the military coup of October 25th ran into a roadblock, literally: the masses in every city of Sudan took to the streets building roadblocks of bricks, sticks and stones and burning tires. The generals tried to stop the masses from getting organized by cutting off the Internet, but the masses managed to communicate anyway, by word of mouth and smoke signals given off by piles of burning tires. Politicians and prominent leaders of mass organizations were largely rounded up and jailed, but the struggle was carried on anyway by neighborhood resistance committees. (1) Riot police were dispatched to suppress the demonstrations, and regular battles took place as the police and demonstrators tossed tear gas grenades back and forth. In some places the police opened fire with guns, and over 40 demonstrators were killed in the next few weeks after the coup.
The generals also came under international pressure to restore the
civilian politicians to a place in government, and after a month the
generals compromised. They got the civilian prime minister, Abdallah
Hamdok, to agree to a deal in which he would be restored to office, but
his cabinet ministers, who represented different political groups,
would be replaced by a cabinet of technocrats – that is, by a group of
nonentities responsible to no one except the military. This compromise
was sufficient to quiet much of the international pressure against the
generals, but it was far from satisfactory to the masses in Sudan. The
main organizations that had been warily supporting Hamdok’s civilian
share of the government now turned against him, calling him a traitor.
So the demonstrations have continued since November 22nd, when Hamdok
was restored as prime minister.
The latest round of demonstrations occurred on December 6th. (2) Similar to previous days of large protests, there were large gatherings, marches, and roadblocks. Riot police attacked the masses in various cities. Demonstrators raised the “three no’s” as the main slogan: “No negotiations! No compromise! No power-sharing [with the military]!” (3) The crimes committed by the military since their October 25th coup have only intensified the anger of the masses. They are determined to do away with the military’s control of government, and they insist on accountability by military leaders for their murders, rapes, tortures and imprisonments.
The masses’ struggle against military rule has been going on for
decades in Sudan. Omar al-Bashir rigged up a military regime in the
1980s that viciously suppressed the political parties of the day. But
due to a worsening economy, a strong movement against al-Bashir finally
broke out in December 2018. This December Revolution extended into the
next year until April 2019, when other generals decided it was time to
jettison al-Bashir. They overthrew him in a new coup led by Gen. Abdel
Fattah al-Burham and declared they would lead the transition to a
civilian government sometime in the future. Not satisfied, the masses
continued their struggle and insisted on an immediate transition to
civilian rule. Continuous demonstrations and sit-ins continued into
July 2019, when the generals organized a night-time attack on a large
demonstration in the capital. Hundreds were killed, and scores of women
raped. The July Massacre only set off more demonstrations and a virtual
shut-down of the economy. As a result, in September 2019 the generals
agreed to immediately take on civilian partners in government, with
Abdallah Hamdok as prime minister. Hamdok himself is not a popular
political leader. He is a technocrat, a British-trained economist who
worked for the African Development Bank and then the UN Economic
Commission for Africa. (4) But he was expected to gradually take in
popular forces into his government, and so these Accords of September
2019 temporarily quieted the demands for immediate transition to
The prominent political parties and organizations are mostly members of FFC, Forces for Freedom and Change. This coalition of 22 groups played an important role in the December Revolution and afterward. Another organization that became prominent at that time is SPA, the Sudanese Professional Association. This was originally a group of doctors and lawyers but has morphed into a new trade union center. After the Accords of September 2019, FFC and SPA gave support to Hamdok’s transitional regime, even though civilians had only a minor share in the government. But since the coup of October 25th they have supported the “three no’s”, and today have turned their back on Hamdok’s deal with the military. As noted before, much of the mass organization also lies with neighborhood resistance committees, which are active in urban neighborhoods throughout Sudan.
Today Hamdok is busy going on television trying to make himself appear independent of the military. He made a show of firing regional governors who had been appointed by the military leaders and appointing new ones himself. He is also replacing some government officials and hinting that his new cabinet may not all be “technocrats” – he might appoint some popular leaders. But this show of “independence” by Hamdok is unlikely to win over mass support for his government. The military’s previous promises about handing over the government to civilians have been scrapped, and they remain entrenched in government, with Hamdok as figurehead. (6) Thus, the democratization struggle in Sudan is sure to continue. It deservehttps://www.wral.com/sudanese-protest-military-coup-deal-that-reinstated-pm/20020786/s the support of the working people everywhere.
(1) Muzan Alneel, “Resistance Committees: The Specters Organizing Sudan’s Protests”, November 26, 2021, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, https://timep.org/explainers/resistance-committees-the-specters-organizing-sudans-protests/.
(2) Samy Magdy, “Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM”, December 6, 2021, Associated Press, via WRAL.
(3) “Sudan police fire tear gas as thousands protest against military: Demonstrators in different locations across Khartoum and other cities voice their rejection of the military deal reached last month”, December 6, 2021, Al Jazeera.
(4) Jean Shaoul, “Sudan’s military seek to crush opposition demanding civilian rule”, November 4, 2021, WSWS.
(5) “Sudanese PM replaces acting state governors named after coup - document”, December 13, 2021, Reuters.
(6) Aidan Lewis and Khalid Abdelaziz, “Analysis: Under fire, Sudan’s Hamdok battles to save political transition,” Reuters, December 9, 2021. <>
by Mark Williams, Detroit Workers’ Voice
Starbucks coffee company has 9,000 stores and 235,000 employees in the US. So far, one store on Elmwood Ave. in Buffalo, NY, recently won their bid to establish a union by a vote of 19-8. (1) At another store in nearby Cheektowaga, the vote was 15-9 in favor of the union, but there were 7 challenge votes by both sides. The pro-union forces are challenging 6 of those votes as being from employees who don’t really work there (likely brought in by Starbucks to stuff the ballot), so the final tally is unknown as we write. The store in local Hamburg defeated the union, 12-8. There are two other area stores that are petitioning the NLRB for a union vote.
This may seem like a small issue: one store with 27 workers unionized out of 9,000 stores! But for all involved it’s not so. For the workers it’s their first chance to stand up for their own demands. For the CEOs, shareholders, and management, it is a fight to keep total control over the workforce. Moreover, the issue of having won a union only begins the struggle of the workers to maintain themselves as a true independent fighting force.
Stagnant wages have been a growing concern among veteran baristas. Real wages have declined over time, so there is a demand for Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA). There is also a need for basic wage increases, taking into account that new employees have benefited over the veteran ones by entering under the universal minimum wage ($13.25 for Western New York).
Workers want a guarantee on the minimum number of hours worked. They want some stability so they know how much income they can count on, how much they may need to supplement their income, and how they can schedule education and their personal life. As well, Starbucks workers want guarantees on the number of staff members on their shifts. They want lower health care costs. Baristas report difficulties dealing with obstinate customers and want better ways to deal with them. They do not want to be treated with disdain, but want to be consulted on changes Starbucks will make. In short, they want to be treated like human beings, not simple tools, available where and when the company snaps their fingers.
Like any other capitalist business, Starbucks goal is to find ways to exploit its employees to maximize its profits. Starbucks was quite successful, reaping in multibillions in profits yearly as stores spread rapidly, while at the same time presenting itself as a relatively good place to work and a champion of social causes. But it could not tolerate the idea of a union. There was no room in its profit-driven head that the workers should have any say about wages, conditions, etc. There weren’t any written guarantees about any temporary niceties. Trust us, we will take care of you. But the workers learned otherwise.
Starbucks management has taken extreme measures to undermine any attempts at union organizing. The former CEO of Starbucks and largest individual shareholder, Howard Schultz, a billionaire and chairman emeritus, came to Buffalo. He had all the Buffalo-area stores closed early one Saturday and paid employees to attend his lecture to them. Schultz had built “a different kind of company,” he preached, and no one told us what to do except “what we felt in our heart and our conscience we needed to do and should do for the people who wear the green apron….” (2) Oh, the irony! Schultz had to be escorted away after an activist challenged Schultz to support the principle of restricting union-busting. That’s shows what was in Schultz’s heart! Management tried and failed to get the NLRB to include all of the 20 in the greater Buffalo area in the union vote, which would have undermined organizing efforts. Starbucks has flooded the areas with management types to literally surround individual workers to convince them that unions are the devil’s way. High level officials are washing dishes side by side with the workers to show what good guys they are, and then flood the stores to act as surveillance. There are some improvements simply because of the threat of the union, a typical business response. For example, Starbucks recently announced it was going to pay (half) the workers a $15 per hour minimum wage nationally. Starbuck’s line is summed up by its North American president, Rossann Williams. She claims that the problem is Buffalo workers somehow “have not had the Starbucks experience that we worked so hard to create for you,” and now she and the other managers are here to solve that by carrying out changes in a direct manner, without a union. (3) Starbucks clearly sees the union vote victory as a threat to their whole dictatorial “partnership”.
Well, off course it is exactly the Starbucks experience that the workers are rebelling against. The first step was the establishment of a union at one location. There are reasons to believe that this will not be the last union at Starbucks. There will be a lot more. There are also thoughts about this struggle leading to organizing not only Starbucks, but all the restaurants in Western New York and beyond that. That is another story. The early victories will provide encouragement and proof it can be done, but a certain working class outlook must also develop against the company’s “partnership” dogma. As well, there must be certain conditions, such as a certain level of class struggle, if such a project is to be possible. If the Elmwood victory is to last, it must gain further ground.
The victorious workers at the Elmwood store now face the difficult task of winning a contract. This wouldn’t be a small feat. Starbucks can delay the process of serious negotiations. If the union proves there are purposeful delays by the company, the penalties are minor, so the company doesn’t care. They can wait for a year, maybe seven years. At a company with high turnover like Starbucks, they can wait until the militant pro-union workers leave, at which time they may face more passive representatives who may even give up negotiating.
The mere winning of a contract itself by no means settles what’s in the contract. That fight tends to bring to the fore the contradictions between the labor leaders whose experience is with the old trade union bureaucracy, the AFL-CIO, and those who like the SEIU and the rank-and-file workers. The workers don’t want a union just for show but to protect themselves against the attempts by Starbucks to drive them down. So the workers must always try to sort out who is truly representing them and who is representing “both sides”, the reformist type of leadership. Figuring this out is not always a simple process of course, as there may be some common ground where improvements for the workers inadvertently help the unwitting owners. It’s also not an easy idea to get rid of because it’s been pounded into the Starbucks workers’ heads that they are not adversaries but “partners”. Now a lot of workers are learning the truth -- that the workers at Starbucks and the employers are at odds. Their “partners” are kicking them in the face and they won’t have it!
Starbucks Workers! Welcome to the class struggle! For too long the
phony coffee titan Shultz and his underlings have tried to pull the
wool over your eyes with their empty words about “partnership.” Where
was this partnership when you could really use some more money or a
good night’s sleep? Counting over their billions made off of your sweat
and the indignities you faced.
Bravo to our new class sisters and brothers at Elmwood who are learning the truth about capitalism and teaching what it means to not cave in to Starbucks management. No longer can Starbucks hide behind its “progressive” facade while it unleashes the whip on those who dare challenge them, on yesterday’s “partners”, the hard-working employees.
(1) There is also a
unionized Starbucks shop in British Columbia, Canada. In the US, there
were have been previous attempts to unionize, such as by the IWW in the
2000s and in Philadelphia and New York.
(2) Josh Eidelson, “Bloomberg Starbucks Union Vote Sets Up a Watershed Moment for US Labor”, Nov. 7, 2021, Time.
(3) Ibid. <>
Picture: The Sudanese people won’t accept military rule, open or disguised
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