When We All Boycotted a Lousy BeerRoundup
tags: beer, labor history, boycotts, LGBTQ history, consumerism, Coors
Erik Loomis is Associate Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island. He's the author of A History of America in Ten Strikes (The New Press, 2018).
On August 19, 1987, the AFL-CIO called off its long-standing boycott against Coors beer, one of the more iconic boycotts in American history and one that reminds us what a loathsome family the Coors brood remain.
Coors was a truly reprehensible company, owned by Nazi-sympathizing fascists determined to turn the United States on a hard-right bent. Joe Coors for instance was the key player in starting the rightwing media networks that led to Fox News, just as one example of this awful family. Joe Coors was also president of the company in 1977, when the boycott began. Coors treated its workers terribly. One of the things it liked to do was subject its workers to required polygraph tests. This came out of the murder of Adolph Coors III back in 1960, but was used far and wide to discover any sort of labor agitation in the company’s home of Golden, Colorado.
There were several reasons for the union boycotts of Coors that went back to the 1950s. First, while the brewery industry was heavily unionized, Coors was a long-standing holdout, with few unions in its plants. The Coors family hated unions and would do anything possible to keep them out of their factories. But this was not the only reason. Coors openly discriminated against Black Americans, Mexican-Americans and gay Americans, refusing to hire any of them except in the most menial positions.
The first boycott against Coors came out of a union effort in 1957, though it was not particularly effective. The modern era of boycotting Coors began in 1966 with the Crusade for Justice and the Colorado chapter of the GI Forum, focusing specifically on the company having only two percent of its workforce Latino and these in the most menial jobs. Coors also actively supported the grape growers being boycotted by the United Farm Workers, including using Coors trucks to get grapes from picketed farms to market.
This open anti-worker mentality created a larger-scale set of boycotts by Latino organizations against Coors. When Joe Coors openly opposed the creation of Chicano Studies courses at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where he was on the Board of Trustees, it only fed the fire. Over the next decade, Latino boycotts against Coors would wax and wane but would never disappear. But they didn’t have that much power to seriously hurt the bottom line for the beer giant.