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41 Years Ago – The Coors Boycott in Colorado Begins by David Nefzger

April 7, 2018
1983 - 04 - David Nefzger - a

David Nefzger, April, 1983

(David Nefzger has a lifetime of commitment to the labor movement in Colorado. I am told he is writing his memoirs of his involvement in more than half a century of Colorado labor struggles. I hope he does; I look forward to reading them. Here he reflects upon one of the key moments in Colorado labor history, when the Coors family broke their contract with the Brewery Works International Union Local 366. Not long ago – last year – I ran into one of the leaders of that struggle, Kenny Debey, at Kaiser Medical Center in Denver). 

On this date 41 years ago, April 7,1977, 1500 members of Brewery Workers International Union Local 366 began an unfair labor practice strike against the Adolph Coors Company of Golden Colorado. The strike lasted 18 month and ended with the Union being de-certified. The company has not only remained nonunion since but has developed into one of the least known and perhaps most far right-wing groups in the country. They are as bad politically as the Koch Brothers but much more politically savvy. They have developed their own brand of hypocrisy that allows them to attack groups while pretending to be their friends.

Interesting enough also in 1977 Joseph Coors, then President and CEO of Coors formed, with other business leaders, the Rocky Mountain Legal Foundation whose first President was James G. Watt President Reagan’s Interior Secretary. The Foundation has since its inception sued to overturn affirmative action, gay rights, women’s rights, voting rights, environmental protection on and on ad nauseam. Currently the foundation’s web page highlights two projects: the fight against the FAA’s program to hire more black air traffic controllers and the fight against “Union abuses” focusing on public sector Unions.

1979 - 09 - Labor Day Denver 2a

Labor Day, 1979 – Boycott Coors poster. Like David Nefzger, never drink the stuff. Never.

Until recently Coors has also perennially supported Right To Work legislation both in the legislature and on the ballot. In the last few cycles they have chosen to remain politically neutral and allow their surrogates from the Legal Foundation, The Employers Council and the National Right to Work Committee do the heavy lifting.

During the 1920s when the KKK was banned from marching in Downtown Denver the Coors family opened up private property for them to rally on. This was actually a boon for the Klan because their burning crosses could be seen for many miles across the plains.

Between 1967 and 1972 Joe was a Regent if The University of Colorado. His tenure was notable for two things. He unsuccessfully attempted to ban all political activities on campus. And vehemently opposed the development of a Chicano Studies program. Many people have questioned if he would have been so actively opposed to political activity if it had been young conservatives rather than young progressives organizing.

Summer, 1975. Two Colorado labor leaders from the 1970s. Dave Sickler of the Brewery Workers 366, and Ellen Lavroff, president of the Colorado Federation of Teachers.

The tactical change came about with generational changes. Adolph Coor, the company founder, was not political, choosing to focus on running the business. It was the fourth generation including Joe and Bill who brought the politics out in the open. Bill was responsible for funding the creation of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress led by Paul Weyrich and founding The Heritage Foundation. Of course a “free congress” means one free of liberals and progressives. The committees prime strategy was to unite voters around hatred for gays and lesbians and electing far right candidates based on homophobia. And most people have heard of the Heritage Foundation’s fight against Unions, civil rights. Women’s rights, gay rights etc. In fact it is the Heritage Foundation’s Blueprint for America that many of Donald Trump’s policies are based on. Both organizations pursue their goals thru lobbying, “citizen” initiatives and supporting right-wing candidates for office. Joe himself ran for Congress against Ed Perlmutter in 2012.

The new family members are smarter than the Koch brothers but no less evil and maybe more effective because of their stealth. In Denver they sponsor the annual Gay Rights parade while secretly donating money to organizations who want to push gay rights back to the 1950s. In the past they used to be a sponsor of the Cinco de Mayo celebration (they are not this year) while contributing to organizations that oppose the dream act and support English as the official (only) language. They do similar public support in the black community. As a result the beer is popular in gay bars and among blacks and Latinos. I am sure that when people drink the product don’t realize that for every beer they drink a little money goes to far right wing republican candidates and to groups that are working against their interests.

To be clear opposition to Coors goes back far before the strike. I personally stopped drinking the swill in 1966 when Rodolfo Corky Gónzales, head of Denver’s Crusade for Justice called for a boycott due to a refusal to hire Chicano and Black workers. At that time less than 2% of the workforce was People of Color and they were stuck in the lowest paying jobs. There have been many other groups who have held short-lived boycotts.

In 1984 Bill Coors told a luncheon of Black Business Owners that one of the best things that slave traders did for your ancestors was to drag them over here in chains and civilize them. The next day Lonnie Haynes from OCAW and I were leading a street demonstration and organizing a Black boycott of Coors.

That is when the company ran their first experiment with appeasement and bought an abandoned church for the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company one of America’s preeminent African-American Dance companies. (BTW despite this one indiscretion the dance company remains one of Denver’s under appreciated cultural treats).
Unfortunately the appeasement was relatively successful and, as discussed above, is now a major weapon in the company’s PR arsenal.

During the early and mid 1970s Coors Transportation drove their product to Northern California then drove through United Farm Worker picket lines to pick up scab picked grapes and deliver to market in Colorado.

There has been some confusion about whether any Coors products are Union made. According to the company’s web site Coors Banquet, the flagship product, is made only in Golden Colorado making it 100% non-union. Coors Light is made in Golden and a handful of Miller Breweries all of which are Union. In Golden the company contracts with some Union Building Trades signatories to do construction and maintenance meaning that there are more Trades people working there than at the Anheuser Busch brewery in Ft Collins where all other work is 100% Teamster. The question is if the fact that a few building trades members are employed in Golden and some products are brewed in Union shops make up for busting a 1500 member local, supporting the Klan, and pushing a far right anti everyone political agenda. I think not.

Just always remember to enjoy a frosty Union Brewed Beverage.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bill Conklin permalink
    April 7, 2018 7:33 am

    The best beverages come from breweries that are employee owned, and we have that in Colorado.

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