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Compost, Unions, Social Justice & Starbucks.

  • Subject: [cg] Compost, Unions, Social Justice & Starbucks.
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Sun, 2 May 2004 11:18:30 EDT


To give my  final take on Starbucks, free compost and those who would look a gift compost in the mouth.  This will be long, and mostly not about gardening, so those above the lower 48 and/or are rugged individualists who reload their own ammunition are not required to read this. Missives on strictly community gardening topics to follow. Even the Cinco de Mayo and the Fourth of July, I promise.

From Adam's all-too-real life on the strange offshore island of Manhattan:

This morning, I'm sipping a cup of black coffee, brewed and ground by my own hand, a Sumatra Mandheling, from beans I bought from Fairway, a very good supermarket on Manhattan's Upper West Side. It cost me $5.99 a pound, as compared  to the $9.99 I paid at Starbucks for the same. I doubt if it is more "kosher" in terms of labor, "fair trade" or any of the kind words that new-lefties like to tack on to their food products and personal consumables, but it does taste good, and is cranking me up after yet another, lousy night of furtive sleep and mourning.

Now, the folks that I've been shopping from at Fairway are Unionized, and have benefits, unlike the brand new anti-union "Whole Foods" which has opened up to me in the appalling AOL/Time Warner building and sells "Fair Trade" bean coffee to yuppies who feel good about that, and could care less about the fact that the "Whole Foods" employees have no negotiated job protections and had best stay healthy, or try to afford the company health benefits that kick in after a year.

During the 20 or so years I spent in the restaurant business ( from age 10, if some need to know) and "rose" from dishwasher, urinal mopper, porter, busboy up to assistant food and beverage manager at  NYC hotel. And I went to school, supported myself from age 15, married had a son, and went to school, on my own dime.  I spent 15 of those years as a union member, union delegate, assistant and full shop steward, and member of a city wide negotiating committee. My unions were Local 1, Local 69 ( no joke, it was a Mafia Local that eventually was disbanded and some of the members sent to jail) Local 6, then Local 100. 

At the end of the day, because, as Kurt Vonnegut says, " married guys work in all kind of jobs to keep food on the table, "  I was on the management side of the table. the poor zhlub handing out the closing notices to the shop stewards and employees, because the owners had decided to sell the hotel to the Ziff computer magazine people, who ended up selling after they had lost alot of money due to their chronic lack of any concept of the  the hotel business.

The irony did not escape me, nor  my union negotiating partners,  because I had hired a large number of my former comrades when their earlier joints, like mine, a 4 star joint owned by Warner LeRoy,  closed down. And when I wasn't pretty enough to work as bartender, after my 4 star hand closed, I became a manager, and my perspective was "broadened".

Many of my former comrades are still in NYC HREBIU Union Contract Hotels,  some keep my picture on the wall with "Our Lady of Gudadlupe," so they tell me, because of the fact that their babies were born in hospitals, their teeth were fixed and they have the prospect of more than a cardboard box to live in during their dotage. As long as the union stays solvent....

But after working as a hotel "manager-on-duty" one Sunday, and handing out closing notices to room maids with 30 years experience, I handed in my keys off to the concierge, now fired myself, and went home, looked at my wife's uneasy stare across the breakfast table, opened up the job pages, and decided that whatever a "paralegal" was, because that was what the jobs were in the Times at that time were, I would hum a couple of bars and fake it.

And now, after another amusing business cycle, I'd doing that, and a great deal of freelance editing and "ghosting." 

At 50, I lack the sense of moral certainty I had at 20, when everything was so clear. As I'm over 30, as the old saying says, I'm sure I can't be trusted. I wouldn't take my composted coffee grounds or any by-product from Union Carbide or General Electric for my compost bin, but a coffee company?  Puh-leeze!!!

Now I know that Capitalism ( Note: Who uses the euphemism, "free enterprise" anymore?) will try to pay the least, get the most, go for monopolies, lie, cheat and steal to get what it needs, including putting a human face on itself. The song is the ring of a gold coin on the table, nothing else is relevant to capital. 

And one only need to look at the Soviet & Chinese Communist experiments, with their Gulags, terror, purges and Five Year Plans to see how a non-rational system that calls itself socialist and collective can go. 

The Eurpean system of labor protections is fraying, and I don't know who long that will last, even for the French or Swedes.

And, I  have spent enough time working with labor to realize that our hands were not clean either. Anyone, and I repeat anyone who intellectually understands what it is like to challenge a mob union with the Feds ( and know that there was landfill, or the East River waiting for you) in order to get AZT for HIV + waiters who had signed on the union contract dotted line, will understand the nuances of which I speak. 

To end in the garden:   A sweet young Hispanic mother, single as is the current fashion, with two kids is a member of the NYC Municipal Worker's Union. Her Mom provides day care, she's going to school, and has a future,  is sitting on the bench across from me in the Clinton Community Garden as I'm tying off daffodils, moving hollyhocks, weeding and planting some pansies until the parrot tulips finish their show, and the foxgloves, perennials, dahlias, oriental lillies, nasturtiums, kick in for the summer and fall.  We talk.

I'm "Tio Adan" , because her Dad was one of my guys in the Union. She has loaded up with huge bags of clothes from downtown on 14th and Orchard Street for her kids and herself. "Sneakers, everything."  So I ask her, being the absolutely miserable human being that I am, if she looked for the "union label" on any of her goods, or if she avoided buying stuff made in sweatshops in Russia, Africa, the Central American maquiladoras, or in the so-called USA - i.e., the Marianas.

Now this young lady is a 29 year old  working class hero, serves on a negotiating commitee, went down to Washington for the Women's Rights March - her kids in tow and got all of her family in this country to become voting US citizens, in addition to holding down her job, feeding her kids, and maybe even finding an acceptable man to spend some part of the rest of her life with.

She looks at me with the _expression_ reserved for children,  beloved old people in their dotage,  and over-educated-beyond-their-intellectura-capacity socialactivists and said, " you want my children to go naked? What union label? What non-sweatshop apparel? Ralph Lauren's more expensive stuff is union made, but for my kids?"  I look down in the dirt, mixed in some coffee grounds, and shook my head.

Everbest, and happy gardening,
Adam Honigman
Clinton Community Garden

Subj: Re: [cg] More on Starbucks
Date: 5/2/04 2:42:01 AM Eastern Daylight Time
To: walter_francis@yahoo.com
CC: community_garden@mallorn.com
Sent from the Internet


Perhaps a different reference point is needed.  Making a choice which
is in your best interest is an accepted tenet of capitalism, but the
evaluation of what that best interest is, is usually too short sighted
to be of regenerative value, and ultimately is probably not the best

Just as a healthy soil consists of a rich bio-diversity, a healthy
economy must provide a place for those who wish to particpate in a mode
above conditions of neo-slavery.  Large corporations can yield the
power of quantity purchases, and delivery their wares via the labor of
part time, underpaid, underinsured employees.  That works for you in
the short run, and your acceptance of lowest cost at the moment, works
very well for the monied principals behind the organization.

I like to squeeze a nickel like everyone else, but not necessarily when
it comes to things I ingest.  At the locally owned coffee shop where
I'm a regular, the owners make sure that they have my favorite
blueberry scone on hand for me.  At the local fish market, they always
give me a center cut of wild salmon, rather than giving me an end cut.
At the Farmer's market on Sunday, where I frequently get fresh local
oysters, the proprieter has sometimes set aside some oysters for me
before they ran out, thinking that I would be by later.

These are all examples of other people looking out for my best
interests.  With that in mind, start reading this email again.


David Smead

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