In the mid-1960s, to protest discriminatory hiring practices, Chicano groups in Colorado called for a boycott of the Coors Brewing Company, launching what would become a decades-long boycott that brought together a coalition of activists that would include not just Chicano and Latino groups, but also African American groups, union organizers, LGBT activists, students, environmentalists and feminists.
These groups had a variety of motivations for their involvement in the boycott and varied success in achieving their goals. Although the formal boycott ended by the late 1980s, some activists continue to boycott Coors beer to today.
In this episode, Kelly briefly tells the story of the Coors boycott and interviews Allyson P. Brantley, Assistant Professor of History & Director of Honors and Interdisciplinary Initiatives at the University of La Verne in Southern California, and author of the 2021 book Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors & Remade American Consumer Activism.
Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Episode image: 1970s-era “Boycott Coors Beer” broadside. Printed by the Howard Quinn Co.
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Kelly Therese Pollock 0:00
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too.
Today's story, in honor of Labor Day, is about the long lasting Coors boycott. The Coors Brewing Company was founded in Golden, Colorado, in 1873 by Prussian immigrants, Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler, who had bought a recipe for a Pilsner style beer from a Czech immigrant. In 1888, Adolph, bought out his partner to become sole owner of the brewery. The Coors company liked to portray its workforce as a tightly knit family and unions as bothersome. In the 1950s, a younger generation of the Coors family took over management. And as Local 366 Union pamphlet explained, they brought a "pronounced anti union atmosphere, which was to grow stronger each year thereafter, and replacing the former management's bare tolerance of the union with outright animosity toward it." After new union leadership was voted in in 1951, the Union staged two brief strikes in 1953, followed by longer strikes in 1956 in 1957. When Coors engaged in union-busting activities that were uncommon for the time, the union called for a boycott to bolster the strike. The 177-day long Local 366 strike and boycott ended in August 1957 with neither side happy.
In 1966, two Chicano groups--Crusade for Justice and the Colorado chapter of the American GI Forum--launched a boycott of Coors beer, at first locally, but by the 1970s, including much of the Coors market area. At the time Coors was sold only in the American West. You may recall that the plot of the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit involved to bootleggers, played by Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed. driving to Texarkana, Texas, to transport 400 cases of Coords beer back to Atlanta, Georgia, where it couldn't be legally sold. Crusade for Justice and the AGIF called for the boycott in response to discriminatory hiring practices of the Coors Brewing Company that especially targeted Chicanos and African Americans. Coors refused to meet to discuss the hiring practices. Other groups including labor unions, women's rights groups, African American organizations, and LGBT activists join the boycott to protest both the hiring practices and the Coors' family financial support of right-wing political causes. Coors used polygraph tests in their hiring process, which was alleged to be used to out and discriminate against LGBT individuals.
In 1974, the Ad Hoc Committee Against Coors for Affirmative Action first met in San Francisco, bringing together an alliance of activists and organizations representing labor, Black, Native American, Latino and Chicano and gay and lesbian communities. Harvey Milk attended, representing the gay activist community.
In 1977, brewery Workers Local 366, which represented over 1500 workers at the Golden, Colorado, brewery, called for a strike, which lasted 20 months. In support, the AFL-CIO called for a nationwide boycott. Coors responded to the strike by replacing workers with strike breakers and many of the union members ended up going back to work without a contract. In December 1978, workers at Coors, most of whom were back to work by that point, voted 993 to 408 to decertify Brewery Workers Local 366. The decertification of the union ended the strike, although the boycott by the AFL-CIO continued and expanded to include the national Organization for Women and the National Education Association.
In the 1980s Coors worked with minority groups to hire more minority workers and support minority rights. In September 1984, Coors made a deal with the National Minority Economic Development Coalition, which included the NAACP, Operation PUSH, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and others, committing to hiring more Black workers, including at the executive ranks, using Black vendors, and making annual financial contributions to the Black community. In turn, the coalition promised to "take positive visible action to help eliminate the misconceptions of Coors and the Black community." Coors made concessions to the AFL-CIO as well, including using union labor to build a new facility in Virginia and allowing a unionization vote again at the Golden facility. In August 1987, the AFL-CIO formally ended their boycott. In December 1988, workers at the Golden brewery voted against unionization by a margin of over two to one.
Although the formal coordinated boycott ended, for some communities, the boycott continues. As radical Chicano activist Juan Federico Miguel Arguello Trujillo said to today's guest, "First of all, the thing you've got to understand is that the boycott has never been called off, right? Never. And so what we're saying is, you can join the boycott or don't you know, it's up to you."
To help us understand more about the Coors boycott, I'm joined now by Allyson P. Brantley, Assistant Professor of History, and Director of Honors and Interdisciplinary Initiatives at the University of La Verne in Southern California, and author of the 2021 book, Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism, which is the source of much of this introduction.
So hi, thank you for joining me today. I am excited to talk about Coors beer.
Allyson Brantley 7:22
Thanks for having me, Kelly. I'm also always excited to talk about Coors.
Kelly Therese Pollock 7:26
So this is such an interesting topic to me, because of the I think actually, the episodes I've done so far, this is the only one that's happened in my lifetime. And it really happened largely in my lifetime. I was born in '78. And yet I also knew nothing about it. This is a sort of fascinating to uncover and find this. So what got you interested in this topic of the Coors boycott?
Allyson Brantley 7:53
Yeah, great question. I think there are a couple of different paths that led me to this project. I write in the book a little bit about how I grew up in Colorado; my parents grew up in the Midwest, but moved to Colorado in the 70s, and 80s. And the state is really sort of saturated with Coors. There are taps in every bar; it's on every you know, it's on shelves, and every liquor store; buildings are named after it. And the advertising for the company really kind of evokes the sort of Western spirit of Colorado. And when I was in graduate school at Yale, it was actually now 10 years ago, I sort of stumbled across an account of the boycott in a sort of famous Mexican American history textbook, but others had written about it in the context of Mexican American or Chicano boycotting in the 1960s. And I was really taken aback. One because it was a piece of my state's history that I had never known about, but also that there was not a narrative about a boycott, on course, to my recollection ever. In my own household, my dad drank Coors Light. And so I was really surprised by the history, and I wanted to learn more. And at the same time, when I was in graduate school, pursuing my degree in history, I was doing some organizing with Unite Here, the local union, which represented clerical and maintenance and janitorial workers at Yale, and we were trying to organize a graduate student union. And as I was engaged in that work on and off, I was thinking a lot about organizing and coalition building, and how do you actually do this kind of thing on the ground. And so I felt a sort of kinship with the story of people organizing a Coors boycott and engaging and organizing and activism over a long period of time and sometimes not seeing great results. And so I became drawn into the project, both through my own personal background and then some of the things I was doing in my own life when I encountered the story itself.
Kelly Therese Pollock 9:54
So let's talk some then about how you do a project like this. I'm coming off a run of episodes about the 19th century. And so there are very particular kinds of sources available to people doing that work. But this kind of work that happened, you know, in our lifetimes, where a lot of the people involved are still alive. What are the kinds of sources that you use? How do you go about sort of piecing the story together?
Allyson Brantley 10:20
Yeah, it was not easy to piece the story together, even though it's something that didn't happen all that long ago. I came at the project, really through an archival lens. And I was very interested in uncovering networks of organizing and records of grassroots activism in the archive. And what was surprising and kind of difficult for me was that there was no clear archival space to study the boycott of Coors Beer, although many archives across the country have collections related to the boycott. So I did a lot of traveling and digging. And I think this is one of the challenges of actually doing more recent history is that a lot of the archival records, hopefully, they're material that have been saved. But they're often scattered, I think. And I also struggled, and other people who study the 70s, and 80s will know this, I struggled to access digital newspapers. You know, from the 19th century and early 20th century, a lot of stuff has been digitized. But that was not necessarily the case when I was embarking on this project. Newspapers.com, I think has changed that for a lot of people. But I felt like I was following a lot of crumbs. Eventually, though, what I was able to find the records of Local 366, which was the union at Coors, the Brewery Workers Union, when that union became defunct in the late 1970s, someone dropped off the boxes of their materials at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and they hadn't been processed when I came across them. And I had a couple other instances of unprocessed, kind of bulk archival material that helped me uncover this story. And I'd often see letters and leaflets and things pop up in lots of different archives, and it helped me reconstruct the networks of activists. And once I was deep into that work, I did start doing oral history interviews, and was able to reach out to a good number of boycotters to chat with them. And then some historians had also done oral history interviews in the 1990s. So I was able to hear the accounts of folks who had since passed away to fill in the gaps of what I couldn't find in the archive.
Kelly Therese Pollock 12:33
What is that like when you go to an archive that where, you know, archival material that isn't categorized, that no one's gone through it? You know, I'm imagining the kind of boxes of things that I have, you know, like in my office, or somebody trying to dig through them and, and find something, you know, well, what sorts of things is stuff useful? Like, how do you find stuff in there?
Allyson Brantley 12:56
So I will say I loved it. You know, I think there's something about being one of the first people to look at a collection that gets you kind of giddy. But of course, if you think you're only going to spend a week at an archive, and you find in another case, it was I think 50 linear feet, you cannot spend a week going through them. In the case of Local 366, their archives were fantastic in terms of the the depth of stories that they were able to tell me, they had kept their ledger books from the union, which accounted for all of the money they had spent on the boycott, and who they sent money to. So if there was a striker who is in Los Angeles, they would write their name and how much money they sent them in for what, and that really helped me piece together who is on the ground doing the work. But the records of another boycott or an activist who's named Howard Wallace, who's a gay socialist, feminist labor activist in San Francisco, all of his materials were donated to the San Francisco Public Library. Those are also unprocessed. And what I loved about his materials is that I felt like I got to know him really well, because it wasn't an organized archive, I had to look at everything. And I always like to tell the story. He had a whole box of materials related to his dogs. He had had Boston Terriers since the 1970s. And so he had a careful collection of photos of every single Boston Terrier he'd ever had. And, of course, that's not germane to the boycott, there was no piece of that I could write about, but when you're trying to understand what organising was like on a day to day basis for someone, a day to day experience, to see their personal life come through the archive, helped me better understand what they were going through, and I became much more invested in telling their story.
Kelly Therese Pollock 14:44
I love that. Although I do worry that someday somebody is going to want to write about me and it's gonna be digging through my materials which will not be that neat and organized. Luckily, they'll have like emails they can read. Those things are much more organized. You add in the conclusion to your book. I have this really nice list of lessons from the, from this boycott, things that they did well, things that they, you know, maybe you stumbled along the way, and things that we can then use going forward. And I think, you know, my other podcast is a politics podcast. And so this is, you know, certainly the kind of thing people have been thinking a lot a lot in your in recent years about, you know, what, what are the actions we can take? In this case, it's labor, but you know, in other cases, it's just as consumers, you know, what, what can we do? How can we drive the conversation with our dollars, it to me that was really useful frame for thinking through going back and thinking through this story at this boycott. So I thought maybe if we could talk about those, those lessons and sort of how they applied to the story, I think that'd be really useful for our listeners, as well. So for the first one you say, and I love this: "From the start, a successful boycott must be careful and coordinated rather than a shotgun affair." And so you say that Dave Sickler called this a scalpel, a boycott of the scalpel, which is great. Uh, but, you know, there's certainly times along the way in this story where it's maybe not quite so careful and coordinated in times that it is. Can you talk some about what what that looks like in the case of this Coors boycott?
Allyson Brantley 16:22
Yeah, absolutely. That that line when when Dave Sickler said that, to me, really clarified the history of this boycott. And so basically, he was saying that it's easy to call for a boycott. If you're upset about something or, you know, you have some sort of personal grudge against a company or a person. But calling a boycott in a shotgun manner, is often a recipe for failure, because it's easy to lose sight of the ultimate objective. And so what he always said was that you had to be carefully organized. And when he really got involved in the boycott, this is kind of in the mid 1970s. And he'd already seen the work of previous organizers to boycott Coors, first Chicano activists who boycotted starting in the 1960s, late 1960s. And then a boycott that brought together teamsters, LGBTQ, Chicano, African American, and other folks in San Francisco. And he didn't, he was kind of opposed to those boycotts at the time when, because he was working at the the Coors brewery, but he looked at those boycotts and studied them very carefully alongside the boycotts organized by the United Farmworkers, and laid the groundwork for boycott activity well before it even started. And so it set him and others up for success because they had a structure that was ready to go. And they already had a network of solidarity, before they went into the boycott. And I think that's really key, especially today, people will ask me, and maybe we can talk about this more, you know, do you think boycotts can be successful today? And I absolutely, I think, yes, but I think today, all too often, we rush to boycott without thinking about what boycotting actually means. It's not just not doing something on your own. A boycott is a social movement strategy that needs to be organized in a collective way, I think. And the Coors boycott demonstrates how this can work well, but you're right, sometimes they lose sight of the ultimate objective. Sometimes there is sort of this almost vindictive, kind of revenge-based boycott motivation that also I think, fails them and in a variety of ways.
Kelly Therese Pollock 18:31
Yeah, when you said the rush to boycott now, you know, I'm thinking so many times I've heard someone say like, oh, well, I think we're not supposed to get that brand, and someone will say why? I don't know; I just remember somebody said, we're not supposed to get that brand. But it does seem like in the history of this boycott that for whatever faults other things might have had, that people at least did understand why they were boycotting, the people that were boycotting understood. And maybe in you discuss this, maybe they had different understandings, you know, one group might think, well, the primary reason we're boycotting is this and another group had, you know, a different primary reason for them. But at least they knew the reasoning behind it. And it wasn't just don't buy Coors.
Allyson Brantley 19:11
Right. Well, and that's the other important thing is that the Coors, boycotters did a very good job of communicating a clear message. So they used buttons, they used flyers, they use labor newspapers to clarify the message. But what they did is, you're noting that, you know, they would basically say if you're a person of color, you boycott because the company is discriminatory. But if you're queer, you boycott because they're anti-gay. Or if you're a progressive you boycott because they're associated with the far right. And that worked, but it also ended up, as I discussed, kind of splintering the coalition over time.
Kelly Therese Pollock 19:46
Yeah, yeah. Well, and so that I think then leads into the next lesson that you have here which is broad-based alliances and coalitions are vital and that's what you've been talking about here. But so is the shop floor, and so I I think that that is again, very relevant to today that there are so many boycotts that are really just the consumers that have nothing to do with the actual people involved on the shop floor. Again, this, you know, in this long history of this boycott, there were times that that seems like it was more coordinated and more careful. And it really was coming from the shop floor and times that maybe it wasn't. So can you talk through that piece of it a little bit. And, you know, the times that it was most successful, that it was going well, that it really was tied to the workers on the frontlines?
Allyson Brantley 20:37
Yeah, so I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and had some conversations with folks and on the ground in the labor movement. And someone, you know, clarified this point that you know, what that seemed to work best when we focused on the producer rather than the consumer. And another person who says this in their work is Matt Garcia, who writes about the United Farmworkers boycott. And I think that's really sort of the case in the Coors boycott. And what I'm talking about there is, a lot of these boycott episodes begin in the workplace that they begin because the union is feeling disaffected, or they begin because people can't even have access to the shop floor if they're a person of color, or if they're a woman. And that's where the boycotts begin. But the thing about this particular struggle is, is it easily brings in other coalition members, because of some of the different narratives we were just talking about. And on a number of different occasions, the boycott really flourishes because activism begins on the shop floor, and then it extends through various networks to bring in a whole array of other people. But two times when this is kind of most successful is with the Teamsters strike and boycott in the early 1970s, in San Francisco, and then in the late 1970s, with Local 366, and then their boycott, because the organizers are folks associated with the labor union, they're the workers. And they're going out in there, not only getting people to sign on to their boycott, but they're doing things for other people in the community to build a collective movement. But there are a number of different occasions in both these stories, where the coalitional-backed boycott becomes bigger than the strike, where you have people who are buying into the boycott, who don't even know that there's a strike going on at the brewery, for example. And what that does, in the case of a very long and protracted strike at Coors, is it diverted resources away from the shop floor battle. And it made it very difficult for the union to actually maintain a stronghold in the brewery. And in the end, the union is voted out, it's decertified, even though the coalition-backed boycott, was doing really well, and bringing down Coors's sales across the west. And I think that this points to one of the sort of difficulties of boycotting, is that you again, you have to be really clear on your message. And you have to understand what the end goal of the boycott is. Is it to run a company out of business? Or is it to win a strike and win a contract. And if you're not clear on those objectives, you can lose sight of the shop floor very quickly, and ultimately, it hurts workers at home. I think there's sort of the modern, or the most recent sort of equivalent to this is the strike that's been going on in Bessemer at the Amazon warehouse, and, you know, earlier when they were running up to their first election, because I think they'll have another election, I heard a lot of people say and saw on social media, oh, you need to boycott Amazon. And at the warehouse, the workers and the organizer saying no, we do not boycott it, right. It'll spook the workers. It'll give the employer reason to, you know, divide workers. And and so the boycott is not always the answer for the shop floor. It can work really well. But it's a tool that requires a lot of care, right. It requires the scalpel and not the shotgun.
Kelly Therese Pollock 24:06
Yeah. Well and you just started talking about goals there, so that was the the next lesson that you gave, and I think, to me, this is sort of the really crucial one, when it comes to boycotts is what is the goal? What are you aiming at? How do you define victory? And I think that that is, that's certainly the problem I see in a lot of current boycotts it's just an indefinite, you know, we're just going to not give money to this company, to this person anymore. Until when? We don't know. What are we trying to get? We're not sure. So it certainly seems, and you started talking about this that there were times that this was really well defined in the Coors boycott and things that they were definitely trying to do, where they could very clearly tie look we are driving this boycott, we are being successful. Go back to the company and use to, you know, get more negotiations, that that wasn't always the case that that the sort of terms of victory were clear.
Allyson Brantley 25:08
Yeah, when the boycott was connected to like legal battles, in the case of Chicanos or African Americans, or when connected to the strike, it was easy to see the ultimate objective as being aligned with some of these other battles that were being waged against the company. The problem was, especially by the 1980s, when the boycott had been going on for a long time, there was no clear message about what the ultimate objective of the boycott was. There were a lot of people who for sure want to see Coors crash and burn and go out of business. But there were others who wanted Coors just to become a better employer and to hire people of color and to hire women. And the problem with those different objectives was when the company did something good, only a portion of the boycott coalition was on board with that. And so it actually led to a lot of infighting and a lot of really bitter feelings between boycotters. And so there's kind of this internal division that in a way that the company itself took advantage of, and was able to pick apart the coalition because there wasn't a clear agreement about when it was okay to say the boycott's off.
Kelly Therese Pollock 26:16
What sorts of goals do you think or sort of terms of victory work well, with boycotts, because some just aren't going to there things are never going to be able to accomplish with boycott, perhaps, but but it seems like there are specific things that maybe you can.
Allyson Brantley 26:31
Yeah, I think boycott is probably at its most successful when it's paired with other forms of actions. So especially with a strike. I think, if you're already on strike against your employer, the boycott provides an extra level of pressure. And it provides an extra way to bring in coalition or community members to your battle. So and then you have a clear end point of a contract or something like that. I think that we've seen that boycotts can be somewhat successful when the objective is to get an employer to stop engaging in some kind of political activity. And that really animates people. And in that same section of the book, I talk about more recent like SoulCycle boycott, or Chick-fil-a, which both had, have had their issues and their weaknesses. But I think if you, if everyone agrees that you want the executive to stop engaging in political activity, maybe you can get them to do that. That's hard to place that kind of pressure. But I think having objectives that are political or objectives that are really connected to the workplace, and the life of the union, I think, in that way, a boycott can be a really helpful tool. But if it's just expansive, it's like, we hate everything that Trump is associated with so we'll boycott everything. There, we didn't see that much come out of those efforts over the past four years.
Kelly Therese Pollock 27:56
Yeah, definitely. And that's, that's so broad. I'm thinking about things like Moms Demand Action, saying, you know, we don't want to shop at your store if you're selling assault rifles. You stop selling assault rifles, we'll start, you know, shopping there, again, that that's a very clear, well defined type of goal where a boycott can work.
Allyson Brantley 28:17
Kelly Therese Pollock 28:17
The next lesson that you talk about, and this, I think, is certainly something that has lots of ramifications for potential boycotts today is that preemption and co-optation can happen, those are the external threads, and that they can really be problematic to the boycott, and this is something then that Coors does and does pretty well, that they go and make a certain, certain gestures that are sort of very well accepted. And then some groups within the coalition are happy, you know, whether or not that's changing anything in sort of actual terms. Can you give some examples of and they do this a lot. So some examples of places that that happens that the Coors does that and, you know, essentially is able to mollify parts of the coalition.
Allyson Brantley 29:09
So for a long time during this boycott, the company didn't do anything to counter it. One, it didn't take the boycott seriously. And two, it always said, our product is good enough that it doesn't matter what these detractors say we're still gonna sell our beer. But by the late 1970s, into the 1980s, as the boycott continues on and on, much to the dismay of the company, they start to take it seriously. They hire many more people to be on their PR and Community Relations teams. And they begin to reach out to sort of individual groups within the coalition of boycotters. In 1984 because of a particular thing that Bill Coors said, one of the executives, they ended up signing a $325 million agreement with a coalition of African American organizations basically saying, we'll give you this money for scholarships or community development, if you stop boycotting Coors. And then they do the same thing that same year for $350 million, I think I might have gotten the numbers mixed up there with Hispanic organizations. And they say basically the same thing: stop boycotting, and here's all this great money for you. And it places a lot of pressure on the boycott coalition, because in the 1980s, in a period of austerity, where community organizations are getting less and less money from the federal government, that money looks good. And a lot of people are willing to say Coors has changed itself. And so they kind of call off the boycott, or they walk off from the boycott. And this, of course, causes internal tensions. And so the company is really good at figuring out how to mollify certain critics to buy them off. It attempts it does this with the LGBTQ community, paying for AIDS research and AIDS walks. And you know very publicly standing against an amendment to the Colorado State Constitution that banned same sex marriage. And so a lot of this is kind of just public gestures. But it enables the company to place an incredible amount of pressure on a coalition that, for a variety of reasons, was already kind of fragmenting in the 1980s.
Kelly Therese Pollock 31:19
There is certainly good that comes out of those, you know, like it, we can also say, well, it didn't really change what was happening in the company, and they still were giving lots of money to right wing organizations and things like that. But certainly that money itself was doing good for those communities, too. I guess it really, it seems several times in, in this history that the coalition of boycotters was in really kind of an impossible position. Because the company had so much money, so much power, and could just sort of change the terms of the game like it does in this to say here will buy you off and you know, $350 million is a ton of money.
Allyson Brantley 32:00
Oh, yeah. And Kelly, I think it also goes to show the success of the coalition, right? I mean, the company wouldn't have done this out of just the goodness of its own heart. And then they say that, that's why they did it. They don't say well, you know, we've been feeling the pressure from the boycott, but it demonstrates the success of the boycott because it got the company's attention. But a lot of boycotters see this as completely disingenuous. They hate the fact that the company is giving out money, they you know, they hate anyone who accepts it. And so yeah, it is an impossible position. Because even if the company does something better, and it's clear that the coalition made change, because there's no clear end point to the boycott, any anybody who strays from what I think maybe the ultimate goal of like putting the company out of business is kind of vilified and ostracized at some point.
Kelly Therese Pollock 32:51
Yeah. And then the last lesson you had is about keeping joy, this sense of joy. And I that seems to be most obvious to me, at least in this history when the the Teamsters and the gay community in the Castro are sort of coming together, that there does seem to be a lot of joy in what's going on. You have this wonderful moment, when, is it Baird, walks into the the camera shop and is talking to Harvey Milk? Can you can you talk some about that sort of it's a really sort of fun and vibrant time to what is going on in this boycott.
Allyson Brantley 33:27
I think that's one of the most sort of exciting moments in the story. It really captured my attention. And people always seem to be really enthralled by this. So Allan Baird was a teamster, he actually didn't work for Coors, he worked for, he was a newspaper delivery driver. But when the Teamsters union went on strike, the leadership of the union brought him in to help organize a boycott. And you know, the Teamsters, in the 1970s had a very bad reputation. They were seen to be pretty much all white, male union, which they were there. We had racketeering charges, corruption. And then most problematically in San Francisco, they were engaged in a really like violent battle with the farmworkers over representation in the fields of California. And so Allan Baird, you know, he's looking down these challenges realizing they need to build a boycott against Coors that will work. And he lives in the Castro district. He sees the neighborhood changing around him. And so he goes to a local business owner around the corner from his house who had just opened up a camera store. He says, this guy looks like a total hippie, and it's Harvey Milk. And Allan goes in and asks, you know, can you get the gay community to support the boycott? And Harvey says, well, you have to do something for us. He says, you know, we would like to, for openly gay drivers to be in your union. We want you to be publicly in support of gay rights. And Allan Baird does that. And actually in a number of different cases in that particular boycott episode, communities of color, organizations like the Black Panthers, say the same thing to the Teamsters. Like we're not going to help you in your boycott, you union is all white, you haven't done anything for us. And instead of balking and walking away, the Teamsters do things like build an affirmative action program. They get out there, and they picket alongside the United Farm Workers. So this really kind of, I mean, it's magical in the sense that it's an unlikely coalition and unlikely alliance. But it also just building off of the energy of coalition building in that region, in that period, I think just demonstrates, I think, the real joy and vitality of activism in the 70s and into the 80s, in spite of the fact that it's pretty easy to look at those decades as ones of declining activism, and, you know, economic downturn and the rightward turn this kind of story with the Coors boycott and others that people have written about really highlight, actually, there's a lot of really good stuff going on at the grassroots in this moment.
Kelly Therese Pollock 35:52
Yeah, I love that. And it's it's just more of the story of San Francisco being such a wonderful location of these sorts of Aoalitions. I saw something similar when I was interviewing Aaron Lecklider, about the Communist Party and the the gay community and in San Francisco in particular, there is this this real sort of coalition that's great earlier in the 20th century. So I think that these lessons are just fantastic. Like I said, it was a really helpful way for me to sort of rethink the story that I had just read. And, you know, we talked about this a few moments, but you know, so what is your answer? And, you know, the sort of spoiler for the book, but your answer to can boycotts be successful now? How can boycotts be successful now? You know, can can we take these lessons and really apply them?
Allyson Brantley 36:44
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I'm, I think I'm optimistic about the potential of boycotts. Even though maybe not every listener would agree. But I think that this example demonstrates that boycotts are hard work, but they they can pay off. They can help you build connections and solidarity with people very far away from you, because the language of a boycott is, anyone can do it, right? It's it's a low bar of entry, it's accessible. It also scares companies, right. So it places a great deal of pressure on corporations. So even with the hard work, and the fact that, you know, there's a lot of places where you can go off track, or you can stumble, I see a boycott as a really important tool of social movements in the United States. I mean, it's been with us, even before it was called a boycott, the non consumption has been a part of American political and grassroots activism for many centuries. It has faced an immense amount of pressure, legal pressure in the early 20th century that really diminished what a boycott can do. But I think that the boycott is adaptable. And so that's why I have a lot of faith in it. I think that we just have to be creative with it in the same way that Coors boycotters were. So just because social media maybe is more of a shotgun type response to issues, I think that in the right hands, the boycott, can really be transformed to another kind of really hard hitting and important tool. I don't know what that will look like, I wish that I knew that what that looked like, but I don't think that it's going to go away. I think that it is adaptable and flexible for a lot of different reasons. And so I see it as an important tool for us to keep using.
Kelly Therese Pollock 38:32
It seems, too that in an age when a lot of people sort of feel tapped out, you know, in a way that they've given so much, done so much, you know, that this is a time where a tool where you're saying just don't, don't buy, don't you know, or redirect your buying dollars, you know, and I think that that can be valuable in that way too. Because it's not asking people to sort of do more, give more, it's just being thoughtful about how they consume.
Allyson Brantley 39:00
Yeah, some boycott organizers with with the Coors boycott movement would say also, it's a good gateway drug to grassroots activism, because you can get somebody on board with the boycott by just saying, okay, yeah, I won't buy Coors. But then will you also wear a button? Will you also like come out to this protest or march or Coors-sponsored event that we can picket? And so it was a good way to bring people into the broader movement as well.
Kelly Therese Pollock 39:25
Excellent. Is there anything else that you want to talk about?
Allyson Brantley 39:29
So one thing that I have been thinking about, and I think it's hiding in a footnote in the book is that one thing that's really interesting about this particular boycott is that it's mostly male-led, and most characters in my book are men. And I think in large part that's because of the masculine nature, the sort of masculine dominated world of beer and who is seen to be fit to consume beer in the United States. And it's an important contrast with many other consumer movements which are led by women. Because women were seem to be the arbiters of taste in their family, right? They were the ones who would buy the pants and the grapes and everything else in the grocery store. So they were pressed upon to boycott. And there's a lot of really great history out there about women engaging in boycotts: African American women engaging in streetcar boycotts in the early 20th century; women running meat boycotts in the 1970s. And the Coors boycott, I think, provides a little bit of a counterpoint to that, in undermining some of the traditional gender roles of boycotting and consumer activism. And it's something I've been, I definitely thought a lot about in the book. I didn't address it head on because of space. But I do think it's important to just note and say, you know, it's mostly a male dominated boycott, which is kind of odd, in terms of consumer action, and I don't know if maybe that was also part of the reason why it faltered at some points as well, because it was kind of non traditional in that way.
Kelly Therese Pollock 41:02
Are you yourself boycottinig Coors?
Allyson Brantley 41:05
I don't think I would say I'm engaging in a boycott. I think I tend not to want to drink any of the sort of large beer companies' products, because of the way that they're just dominating the market. There's so much more interesting beer out there. But I mean, I also have to acknowledge that the company has become a better company. So I wouldn't necessarily be boycotting them on those terms. But I don't spend my own money on Coors, I guess we can say that.
Kelly Therese Pollock 41:34
And speaking of spending money, how can people buy your book?
Allyson Brantley 41:38
It's available anywhere that books are sold. Through the University of North Carolina Press, they always have a pretty good 40% off sale. So that's where I would direct people. But if you're interested in boycotting Amazon, you can buy the book many other places. You don't have to get it from Amazon.
Kelly Therese Pollock 41:54
Excellent. I have to say it's, it's odd as a non academic, I suppose, to have a favorite University Press. But University of North Carolina is quickly becoming my favorite academic press.
Allyson Brantley 42:04
And actually, I want to give a shoutout to my editor, Brandon Proia. Because that that final section, the list of lessons, he and I reworked together as the last thing I worked on on the book, and I said, I think I want to do this list thing. And he had a lot of faith in me. And we like kind of took a little leap of faith in doing that. And so he helped that come together in a really good way, I think.
Kelly Therese Pollock 42:26
Yeah, absolutely. Well, Ally, thank you. This was a terrific episode to do for Labor Day, and I am excited to have learned more about boycotts in general and about this boycott that happened in my life that I knew so little about.
Allyson Brantley 42:40
Thanks, Kelly. Happy Labor Day all.
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Allyson P. Brantley is an Assistant Professor of History & Director of Honors and Interdisciplinary Initiatives at the University of La Verne, in Southern California.