Unions show how to build a boycott of Arizona

Randy Shaw

By Randy Shaw

In the past two weeks, the call for an economic boycott of Arizona has spread far beyond the political arena. In addition to labor and immigrant rights groups, it quickly won support from such unusual suspects as pop singers Shakira and Ricky Martin, the NBA’s “Los Phoenix Suns,” and the Major League Baseball Players Association. Polls show African-Americans are even more hostile than Latinos to the racist Arizona law, and conventions from multiple groups are already being switched out of state.

But boycotts typically start with a flurry of activity. Most then dissipate without building the boycott infrastructure necessary to achieve their original goal. For the Arizona boycott to succeed, activists must follow the lessons of the UFW grape and lettuce boycotts of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the South Africa divestment campaign of the 1970s and 1980’s, and the UNITE HERE “Hotel Rising Boycott” of 2006. And the timing is perfect for a “Boycott Summer,” which would boost immigrant rights activism both in Arizona and nationally.

“Boycott Summer”

The critical distinction between successful and failed boycotts is the creation of a boycott infrastructure. In other words, a campaign operation that continues after the media launch event ends, and that builds the boycott through continually harnessing and recruiting volunteers.

The Center for Community Change, its network of affiliated groups, and its labor allies collectively has the staff capability to build an Arizona boycott infrastructure. And while some might argue that focusing on Arizona is a distraction from comprehensive federal reform, at this point the only way a breakthrough can happen on the latter is by activists showing clout on the state boycott.

With summer approaching and many colleges already out, the timing is perfect for a massive “Boycott Summer” campaign in Arizona. Whether this occurs depends on the commitment of boycott groups to build such an infrastructure, which appears to be a golden opportunity to keep immigration reform on the national radar during hearings on proposed Supreme Court Justice Kagan, the ongoing oil spill, financial reforms, and other news.

Recruitment for a Boycott Summer campaign will keep the issue alive across the nation, nationalizing a local struggle in the same way that the UFW used grape and lettuce boycott recruitment to spread word of its struggle with growers in California’s Central Valley. Recruits also become troops in the larger battle for federal reform, so their value extends beyond Arizona and will likely continue when they return to school in the fall.

In addition, the campaign must set up the type of boycott team used by UNITE HERE to persuade conventions to switch from boycotted hotels. In this case, this means staff contacting every convention and public body scheduled to be in Arizona through 2012, and both urging and helping them to switch states (ideally coordinating with UNITE HERE so that the new hotel site is union).

Some conventions are set for this summer in Arizona and cannot move at this late date without a huge financial sacrifice. But most can switch, and with Las Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles nearby, there are plenty of quality non-Arizona venues.

The staffing of boycotts, with or without a “boycott summer,” is where the rubber hits the road. It means that activists are so committed to success that they will use this labor intensive and often controversial strategy to prevail. Announcing a boycott and then relying on quick media hits rather than building a boycott infrastructure sends a counter message, one that adversaries see as organizational weakness.

The immigrants’ rights movement has clearly shown it will do what it takes to win. The movement desperately needs to attract new recruits and energies, and running a full-scale Arizona boycott offers the perfect opportunity.

Defining Success

The national coalition announced the boycott on May 5 stating that it would continue until the Arizona law “is repealed, reversed by the courts, and/or superseded by comprehensive federal immigration.” This middle option—a court ruling striking down the law — could mean that the boycott could end quite soon, as many believe it is unconstitutional and/or federally pre-empted.

When California farmworkers forced growers to accept an agricultural labor relations law, South Africans compelled the white minority leadership to accept majority rule, and hotel workers won good wages, benefits and working conditions through boycotting global hotel corporations, movements were strengthened and the grassroots was empowered. None of these successful boycotts ended prior to the target conceding to the economic pressure

But a favorable court ruling would not require a boycott or even any new activism (to the extent judges are influenced by grassroots action the necessary amount has already occurred). Ending the Arizona boycott without forcing any action by the State Legislature or Governor would not empower the movement, and not provide the political victory apparently needed to pass comprehensive reform this year or anytime soon.

So the Arizona boycott should not be viewed as a short-term project. If it is, it is unlikely to succeed.

The Long View

A common thread through prior successful boycotts is that activists turned to the strategy because they had no real alternative. The same is true with immigrant rights in Arizona, a state that has tried to enact racist, anti-Latino laws for years.

An all-out grassroots, multi-pronged Arizona boycott cannot only change the new law, but also the political climate surrounding immigration. And not only in Arizona, but throughout the country, and in the Republican Party.

It’s good to see activists taking matters into their own hands, and showing Arizona business leaders that attacking immigrants hurts their bottom line.

Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century which will be out in paperback in July.


8 Responses

  1. Boycott or not, I refuse to set foot in a state filled with so many racist psychopaths. That isn’t my idea of a fun vacation.

  2. libhomo,
    So many racist psychopaths? What are you basing that on? The fact that 30% of residents are hispanic? The fact that 70% of residents support the law? The fact that AZ’s 500,000 illegals cost the state over 1.3 billion per year? Or the fact that the law virtually mirrors the federal immigration law?
    Get your facts straight before throwing out the racist charge, it has no bearing and is only used by those looking to shelve a real debate or push a radical agenda like open borders.

    Randy Shaw obviously doensnt think things through. “Polls show African-Americans are even more hostile than Latinos to the racist Arizona law”
    How again is this racist? Becuz now a cop as to ask for ID?
    Dont you understand that attempting to finanially ruin a state due to a differing political view is irrational to the core, and will inevitably end up hurting those “immigrants” that you espouse to be in favor of. Lets be honest, im assuming you’re an open borders guy, which means ur point of view is moot and radical. Declaring a financial war on a state looking to stop its financial bleeding and enforce a federal law the feds wont enforce is the wrong way to go about it. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  3. Your an idiot to say that. There is nothing racist about this bill which is the same as FEDERAL LAW that has been on the books for decades.
    But because you are not smart enough to have actually read the bill, please stay away from my state.

  4. One point I noticed that Randy doesnt seem to understand is that this law is for illegals, not immigrants. We welcome immigrants and deport illegals just like every other country does. I wonder if it is that hard for him to sell books that he has to resort to this low of name calling. He randomly states nothing that makes sense and then compares it to illegals and immigrants in the same sentence, like it is the same that is happening in Arizona. I feel sorry for the guy if that is the best he can do. He compares pineapples to tomatoes and knows nothing about what he says or implies. Maybe he should read something to give him a clue, other then his own writings. Most of the lawsuits have already been dropped and all will follow the same. The law is the states right to amend as needed what the federal law states and that is what it does. Please read it before making a further fool of yourself.

  5. Ken,I recognize that for you this designation of “illegal” is definitive. However, people who know about the reality of immigration understand that who is illegal and who is legal is primarily a matter of who wrote the rules. I will explain.
    If I am a U.S. citizen, and my brother wishes to immigrate to the U.S. from Great Britain, or Ireland, or Europe, they can immigrate after a wait of about 3 months. However, if they wish to immigrate to the U.S. from Mexico or the Philippines, the wait could be 10-12 years. The U.S . immigration system is required by law to favor family reunification, but it does so primarily when the family member is coming from Europe. It is even harder for a person to immigrate if their family member only has permanent residence status. And, if the proposed immigrate does not have a U.S. citizen immediate relative, then again, if they are coming from Europe, Ireland, or Canada, the wait will be a few months. If they are trying to immigrate from China, or Mexico, or the Philippines, they will literally never get an immigration number.
    For more on this see http://www.firstfocus.net/pages/3683/New_Report_Highlights_Impact_of_Immigration_Enforcement_on_the_Child_Welfare_System.htm

    A second major issue which your proposals fail to notice. There are some 5 million U.S. citizen children living here who have one or more parents undocumented. If you propose deporting the parents, who will take care of the U.S. citizen children. In reality immigration is a difficult issue and quite complex. What is presented as simple solutions are often wrong- and based upon wrong information.
    Illegal immigration is a problem and it is complex. That is why SEIU favors one approach, and the AFL-CIO favors another. SEIU has an entire tool kit on immigration with some valuable fact sheets.
    To see the DSA position go to:

  6. Why does the union/unions feel this is the side of the issue they need to be on? Does the union have a shortage of workers? Do they feel that laws were made to be broken. I am 100% behind locking down our borders and fining businesses that hire illegals. That would take care of the problem!!

  7. Read the polls.
    Twice as many Americans favor AZ law than oppose it.
    Americans want this law
    who cares what other people want.

  8. You can find a well developed response to your question by looking at the post by David Bacon on this site _ Should Labor support undocumented workers.

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