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Protest songs in front of an Elmwood Avenue Starbucks as the union push continues

British singer Billy Bragg performs on Elmwood Avenue to support Starbucks strikers
Mike Desmond
British singer Billy Bragg performs on Elmwood Avenue to support Starbucks strikers

With more and more Starbucks store across the country apparently joining an organizational push for unionized workers, local organizers pulled out a different weapon. That was a rally on the sidewalk in from of the coffee shop on Elmwood near Bidwell, long a flashpoint in the organization struggle.

That was an appearance by British singer and activist Billy Bragg, clearly known to many involved in the struggle with Starbucks. He drew several hundred people, overflowing onto Elmwood to preach for organization and unions, standing in front of a sign on the front of Stabucks, asking: Which Side Are You On? He says music and protests are integral.


“Grand old tradition of organizing people coming together, singing songs, raising money, standing up for their rights, working for better ways. That’s why we have a weekend," he said. "This is really important. And, by coming here today, obviously, accumulates from Starbucks workers have already made themselves part of that great tradition.”

His stand was very clear when he stood with local protestor Aislley Ayers for a group sing of the old union song“Solidarity Forever.”

Bragg has a long history of pro-union songs, mostly in Britain but also did a song of his own supporting LGBTQ people. He asked the musicians in the audience to remember their role in supporting strikers and organizing unions.

“By coming here today and supporting them, you are also joining that tradition," Bragg said. "And, if there’s any so you songwriters or musicians, if you stand where I’m standing and you support this strike or any other, you are also part of that tradition in every song you sing. It doesn’t matter what songs you sing, if you stand in solidarity with workers when they strike, you are part of that tradition.”

Bragg told the crowd he had to leave to make sure he could get across the border for a schedule concert in Toronto, leaving wearing a t-shirt supporting the Starbucks workers.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.