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Hold the coffee… December 3, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Capitalism, Crime, Economy.
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…after reading this...

Starbucks is cutting paid lunch breaks, sick leave and maternity benefits for thousands of British workers, sparking fresh anger over its business practices.

On the day the House of Commons’ public accounts committee branded the US coffee chain’s tax avoidance practices “immoral”, baristas arriving for work were told to sign revised employment terms, which include the removal of paid 30-minute lunch breaks and paid sick leave for the first day of illness. Some will also see pay increases frozen.

And what did Starbucks do, or rather not do?

The changes affecting about 7,000 coffee shop staff emerged as the company tried to quell public and political outrage at its use of secretive company structures that has seen it pay just £8.6m in UK tax over the past 13 years on sales of £3.1bn.

Lovely. Just lovely.

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Comments»

1. beckiesheldon - December 3, 2012

Reblogged this on Good stories aren't when a dog bites a man, it is when a man bites a dog. and commented:
Shouldn’t avoid tax!

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2. melfamy - December 4, 2012

So, besides the fact that their coffee bites, they are tax cheats and and crappy employers as well. Three reasons to never set foot in a Starbucks, when any one of them would do.
Support your local coffee shop!

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CMK - December 4, 2012

Agreed. And yet, and yet, workers depend on Starbucks for their living. Instead of boycotting the place would it not be better to ask why the unions are not getting in there, organising the workers and pushing back against these measures? They may be part-time, flexible workers but there should still be efforts made to organise them. I’d support my local coffee shop but there’s no guarantee that the people who work there are treated any better than those who work in Starbucks. In fact, when I called into my local coffee shop at the weekend all of the staff were teenage girls, the girl making the coffee was having a very bad day and seemed very stressed as she tried to make ten cups of coffee before she took my order. And, to top it all, due to some insider knowledge, the local coffee shop are are aggressively anti-union and know how to exploit people effectively.

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melfamy - December 4, 2012

Every business owner is anti-union, but when you work at a smaller company, like I do, knowing the boss, and being able to talk directly to management is better done without going through a union rep.

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CMK - December 4, 2012

Oh yeah, and what if the boss says ‘OK, there’s the door’? Talking to management is one thing; negotiating with them another thing altogether. There’s a fair chance that you and your boss are unaware to the full spectrum of workers rights: a half-decent union representative would be aware. Workers often then they have less rights than that actually have and bosses often think workers have no rights. So, yeah, the boss may be amenable to a chat but nowadays ‘awkwardness’ will likely not be tolerated.

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melfamy - December 4, 2012

We tried organizing, and our goal was $400/day. the vote was defeated, but within two years, we were making that much anyway, and now I pull down over $500/day. Of course, I work in a field where my skill set is in short supply; even in these hard times, anyone with the proper license can get a job on a workboat.
I am sensitive to the needs of workers, trust me, but I am unhappy with the way most unions are run these days

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WorldbyStorm - December 4, 2012

I think it’s generally a case that for most workers membership of a union is better than non-membership (and btw I’ve known bosses who aren’t antagonistic to unions at all). And if there’s a problem with how unions are run, which is something a lot here would tend to agree with, though perhaps not for exactly the same reasons, then the answer is to change them from within with like-minded people.

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3. CL - December 4, 2012

-Two hundred workers from dozens of fast food outlets in New York City—including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Domino’s, and Taco Bell—walked off their jobs Thursday morning to demand $15 an hour in pay and the right to form their own independent union, according to the organizers of Fast Food Forward. It is the largest strike ever in the United States against the $200-billion-a-year fast food industry and represents the latest in a wave of collective actions by low-wage workers to change conditions in their industries and, in many cases, to form unions.-

http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=2012120312501351

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CMK - December 4, 2012

Good stuff.

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Bartley - December 4, 2012

Good for them! That is exactly what unions are supposed to do, organize the genuinely exploited.

Whereas, while this story was all over the progressive media in the US, our own largest union featured in the news for quite a different reason – as the champion of displaced CEOs on six figure salaries, fighting for no-interview sidesteps to newly invented positions, and even arguing for the retention of a €5k allowance for work no longer even done.

Little wonder those on minimum wage are reluctant to organize in this country, given that Irish unions would hardly seem relevant to anyone in that position. And for the most part, the unions themselves have long since abandoned that market segment, preferring to concentrate on pushing the open door in public sector negotiations than to confront genuinely exploitative employers.

Beyond a little traditional fighting-talk now & then (quickly withdrawn … when I said general strike, I didnt really mean a general strike), the unions here are more like professional lobby groups with a hint of medieval guild thrown in.

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Ed - December 4, 2012

So the next time an Irish union tries to organise low-paid private-sector workers, you’ll be four square behind them? I wait with baited breath.

Funnily enough, the Economist had an article on the Wal-Mart strikes the other week, peddling exactly the same line about unions being a guild for the public-sector elite; the fact that unions were trying their best to organise the biggest private-sector employer in the country didn’t pose any challenges for this analysis; apparently they weren’t really trying to improve working conditions for retail staff at all, they were just trying to do down a successful private company and drive it out of business, ‘cos that’s how they roll, those parasitical, anti-enterprise public-sector bastards! Or something like that. Facts are never a problem for the true believer.

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Bartley - December 4, 2012

So the next time an Irish union tries to organise low-paid private-sector workers, you’ll be four square behind them?

Of course!

That would be their main function, and I would applaud them if they finally started applying themselves to it.

peddling exactly the same line about unions being a guild for the public-sector elite … facts are never a problem for the true believer

So speaking of facts, what is your best guess for the ratio of union efforts in the private versus public sectors, scaled for the relative sizes of the two sectors?

Would 80:20 be off base? How about 70:30?

Remove the British unions such as Unite from the picture, and then how do the numbers look?

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Michael Carley - December 4, 2012

I looked up SIPTU, just to see. Divisions for which numbers are given:

Health: 45000 members
Manufacturing: 50000
Cleaning: 11600
Utilities and Construction: 35000

It looks about half and half to me.

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Bartley - December 4, 2012

And it is worth noting that if the division of union efforts across the sectors was to be genuinely guided by the existence of low-pay and exploitative conditions, this ratio would be exactly reversed.

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Ed - December 4, 2012

And predictably of course you’re ignoring the hostility of many (probably most) private-sector employers to union organisation, the barriers they place in its way, and the absence of any union recognition act which would compel them to act otherwise. The logic of excluding unions with their HQ across the water from our sample escapes me. UNITE is just as much a part of the Irish TU movement as SIPTU or IMPACT.

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4. Bartley - December 4, 2012

@Michael

It looks about half and half to me.

Scaling for the relative sizes of the two sectors, the public:private ratio for SIPTU is circa 66:33.

And SIPTU skews more towards the private sector than most of the other large unions.

you’re ignoring the hostility of many (probably most) private-sector employers to union organisation

That’s exactly the point about pushing an open door. It’s far easier to concentrate efforts on a sector where such hostility doesn’t exist (but also doesn’t have a problem with low pay and poor conditions).

Similarly the doctors of Ireland would have a far easier time of it if they could concentrate most of their efforts tending to those in rude health, and leave the sick to their own devices.

Now compare the Irish unions’ efforts in our emerging service industries (low pay, casual hours, disproportionate representation of migrants) to the long, slow slog undertaken by the New York Communities for Change:

http://www.salon.com/2012/11/29/in_rare_strike_nyc_fast_food_workers_walk_out/

The logic of excluding unions with their HQ across the water from our sample escapes me

On the basis that the British unions are likely to have traditional working class values more deeply embedded in their culture, and be less steeped in the peculiarly Irish model of corporatism.

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WorldbyStorm - December 4, 2012

I have to admit that some of what you say rings true as regards my own experience with unions in PS and private sector – though I cannot blame Ed at all for viewing your contributions with some degree of suspicion.

Same unions – I was involved in – but the level of focus seemed to me to be more on the former than the latter. An huge part of the problem with partnership was that it consolidated unions in an area they weren’t under threat and pushed them away from areas where during the boom they had the opportunity to make real inroads. And what’s been most depressing is that it left the unions emasculated when the recession arrived and ripe for being skewered by a public/private sector discourse of division.

Another problem is that the unions didn’t push anywhere near hard enough for propoer pension provision for all workers, public or private, or universal health care for all workers and so on and so forth.

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Bartley - December 4, 2012

Another problem is that the unions didn’t push anywhere near hard enough for proper pension provision for all workers, public or private, or universal health care …

Agreed, and I’m not sure this was purely driven by taking the eye off the ball (as opposed to making a cold calculation that taxation-funded gains for PS workers could be maximized by explicitly avoiding such wider-focus campaigns … call me a cynic ;)).

Either way, conceding ground in the private sector was supposed to guarantee their ultimate survival in the rest of economy.

However, I genuinely think that the unions have recently sown the seeds of their ultimate irrelevance within the public sector itself.

Already hemmed in within a niche market, they’ve only gone and made the same mistake as major league baseball and the Grand Old Party, by hitching their wagon to an aging and declining demographic. And the penny is starting to drop with newly recruited public servants that they’ve been royally sold down the river.

But don’t take my word for it, spark up a conversation on two-tier remuneration with the youngest teacher in the faculty next time you’re at a school event or a match with your kids.

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smiffy - December 4, 2012

Would you have preferred it if all public servants had their salaries brought down to the same level as new entrants?

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WorldbyStorm - December 4, 2012

That’s the central point, and that’s where the tears shed become, well, a bit reptilian – no? Because it’s never a case of trying to raise everyone up… public and private sector, but instead pushing people down.

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Bartley - December 4, 2012

Would you have preferred it if all public servants had their salaries brought down to the same level as new entrants

No.

But I would have preferred if the new joiners hadn’t taken such a massively disproportionate hit when compared to their older peers who held the the union levers of power. (And I’d guess the new joiners would have preferred that too …)

Not just from the point of view of basic fairness, but also because those new joiners are already disproportionate productive and frontline-oriented.

But my crocodile tears matter not a wit, the proof of the pudding will be the route chosen by the new joiners themselves.

Since they won’t have the option of screwing over the generation coming after, yet will still be reminded every payday of how they were hung out to dry by their older colleagues, I doubt the traditional model of PS union membership will hold much attraction.

It’ll be interesting to see whether they’ll stay in an earnings rut not of their own making, or seek to trade on their strengths; productivity, energy, qualifications, tech savvy-ness, adaptability etc; instead of sublimating those qualities in the interest of collective bargaining.

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WorldbyStorm - December 4, 2012

Not sure I’d agree with your point re frontline, disproportionately productive in the slightest, but I think you could be right that this will loosen links with TU’s in the longer term.

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smiffy - December 5, 2012

“But I would have preferred if the new joiners hadn’t taken such a massively disproportionate hit when compared to their older peers who held the the union levers of power. (And I’d guess the new joiners would have preferred that too …)”

And what would you like the unions to have done? You would have supported them if they had rejected the Croke Park Agreement and fought a campaign of industrial action to defend the conditions of employment of their members (you know, what unions are supposed to have done), I suppose.

Why I’m sceptical of your concern for the ‘new joiners’ is because your ire seems to be less directed at those who introduced and maintain the differential in pay and more against those who accepted the deal in the context of failed attempt to defend the public service against pay cuts in the first place.

Similarly, I would be curious of the basis for your claim that new joiners are disproportionately more productive than longer-serving workers, particularly given the massively reduced level of recruitment into the public service over the past couple of years.

Would be, if I didn’t know that you’re just pulling it out of your ass.

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5. Bartley - December 5, 2012

@smiffy

And what would you like the unions to have done?

Argue for a fairer, more progressive, more proportionate distribution of the cuts.

Y’know the kind of goodness that the forces of the left are supposed to be in favour of.

I would be curious of the basis for your claim that new joiners are disproportionately more productive than longer-serving workers

I don’t see how even a cursory glance at the unit costs could support any other view.

One teacher earns less than half the teacher in the classroom next door.

Leaving aside the fact that that the younger teacher is likely to be better qualified, more energetic, more tech-savvy, more up-to-date with contemporary teaching methods etc … the unit cost differential is so steep that productivity would skew strongly in their favour.

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WorldbyStorm - December 5, 2012

“better qualified, more energetic, more tech-savvy, more up-to-date with contemporary teaching methods etc ”

Dear oh dear. That’s some pavlovian response you’ve got going there where the very mention of the public sector makes you think of the words ‘unproductive, lackadaisical, lazy, unenergetic, under qualified’.

The concept of in-service training – liaison with and understanding of the LCA FETAC or whatever exams are being set and whatever curriculum is being followed etc clearly has passed you by completely. And of course personal initiative on the part of teachers to upskill in one area or another because… well, y’know, they feel it might be useful and / or necessary.

As for them being ‘more productive’ because they’re paid less, well that’s highly contestable, not least because it’s a totally artificial wage setting environment, and by the by one that is unamenable to the sort of commercial metrics you sneak into the discussion. So I only mention in passingthe idea that an older teacher in stream may actually have better experience of teaching and class room control which a new teacher may lack, etc, entirely skewing your neat little generalisation.

Really, you’re such a spoofer and this is why I always regret interacting with you, because as smiffy says above, you just pull this stuff out… sometimes in the hope of generating Pavlovian responses on the part of others, sometimes because you just don’t know.

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CL - December 5, 2012

“As for them being ‘more productive’ because they’re paid less, well that’s highly contestable, not least because it’s a totally artificial wage setting environment, and by the by one that is unamenable to the sort of commercial metrics you sneak into the discussion”,
Exactly. ‘Cost’ and ‘Productivity’, although related, are two different things.

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