104-year-old labor veteran Bea Lumpkin rallies Starbucks strikers in Chicago
104-year-old labor veteran Bea Lumpkin rallies striking Starbucks workers in Chicago last Thursday. | Roberta Wood / People's World

CHICAGO—”No matter how big the company is, we workers are stronger—when we’re united!” declared Beatrice Lumpkin at a noisy, spirited rally Thursday in front of the Starbucks store in Chicago’s West Loop.

Lumpkin, a veteran member of the Communist Party, succinctly summarized the wisdom gleaned since her first union rally 90 years ago. She wowed the young strikers

Lumpkin brought her own crowd to join the striking Starbucks workers’ picket line – members of the Intergen Alliance and the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR). | Roberta Wood / People’s World

and their supporters with her energy and enthusiasm.

Lumpkin is the author of the book Always Bring a Crowd, which tells the story of the struggles of her steelworker husband, Frank Lumpkin. And true to form, the 104-year-old icon of this city’s labor movement brought her own crowd to the picket line—members of the Intergen Alliance and steelworker retirees.

The Starbucks workers, who voted earlier this year 15 to 1 to unionize, closed the store for the day in solidarity with another unionized Starbucks in suburban Oak Park where union supporters had been fired.

Barista Nicole Deming called out the hypocrisy of the coffee chain’s benefit plan. “When a company offers benefits based on hours and then cuts your hours, that’s not a benefit.”

Deming also called for higher wages—$20 per hour nationwide and $22.50 in high cost-of-living areas like Chicago. Deming herself had to leave the rally to go to her second job, she said, “but no one should have to work two jobs.”

Workers at the store and their supporters were still smarting from the disrespect they experienced from management during Pride month. Their response? Defiant buttons and t-shirts urging “Be Gay! Organize!”

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Roberta Wood
Roberta Wood

Roberta Wood is a retired member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Wood was a steelworker in South Chicago, an officer of Steelworkers Local 65, and founding co-chair of the USWA District 31 Women's Caucus. She was previously Secretary-Treasurer of the Communist Party. Currently, she serves as a Senior Editor of People's World.