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R ay Rogers isn’t afraid to speak highly about his own projects. “Frankly, I’ve seen organizations and unions spend millions and millions of dollars and what they accomplish can’t begin to compare with what we’ve already accomplished.” Rogers is the head of the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke and Corporate Campaign Inc. (CCI).
The International Labor Rights Fund and United Steelworkers of America filed suit against Coca- Cola in 2001 on behalf of SINALTRAINAL, a union in Colombia which had been the target of attacks by paramilitary forces. The case was also brought on behalf of some of the organizers who had been targeted and the estate of one of the murdered members of SINALTRAINAL, Isidro Gil. The suit contended that this was done on behalf of the bottlers in Colombia, and Coca-Cola more speci- fically. In the same year that many of these abuses took place, Coca- Cola made over $4 billion in profit and CEO Douglas Daft received $105 million in compensation.
Coca-Cola scored a victory by initially getting the suit thrown out, though this decision is being appealed. Thereafter it was decided that a more cohesive public campaign would be needed to supplement the legal strategy; that is where CCI came in. After conducting months of research into the company, CCI came up with a four-part plan: challenge Coca- Cola’s reputation, attack their markets, target specific shareholders, and target specific investors. This strategy seeks to divide the decision makers against themselves. As Rogers says, “It’s just being able to raise the stakes high enough that it’s going to cost Coke a lot more than they have to gain if they don’t clean up the situation.”
T he first part of Rogers’s plan is public relations. Their aim, he says, is “to mount a threat to the image and reputation that Coke has spent billions of dollars and decades to create”—an image clearly important to a company that spends over $1 million a day on U.S. advertising alone. Campaign to Stop Killer Coke has produced hundreds of thousands of posters, stickers, and pamphlets, with professional looking graphics and strong messages. One poster shows an open coffin with the heading “Murder—It’s the Real Thing.” These pamphlets are distributed at protests and Coca-Cola meetings. A small idea that had large results.
On October 23, 2003, Deval L. Patrick, executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary for the Coca-Cola Company was to receive an award from Equal Justice Works, a public interest law group. In attendance were Janet Reno, Alexis Herman, and others. Campaign to Stop Killer Coke stood outside the Washington, DC Marriot handing out flyers mentioning Coca-Cola’s abuses and specifically targeting Patrick. At the ceremony, the public interest and pro-bono advocating attorneys asked Patrick about the claims, at which time he publicly stated that there would be an independent investigation into the matter.
As the Washington Post reported on April 22, though initially claiming to be supportive of an investigation, CEO Douglas Daft later quashed it. This was a significant contributing factor in Patrick’s resignation on Easter Sunday 2004 ( Washington Post , April 22, 2004). This kind of pressure is very damaging to Coca-Cola and is the sort of grass-roots activism that can fight back against Coke’s slick PR.
This pressure also took the form of Rogers speaking as a proxy for 3,000 shares at the last Coca-Cola shareholder’s meeting. Rogers took Coke to task for everything from the abuses in Colombia, and other places in the world, to the striking Teamsters outside the building, asking “Where does the greed stop?” Rogers was assaulted by six security guards, at least one of whom turned out to be a Wilmington police officer, though the Wilmington police have not commented as to whether he was on city time or a hired agent of Coke. The CEO was heard saying, “We made a mistake,” and, indeed, they may well have. (Rogers was not arrested and is currently looking into filing assault charges against the company.) This also prompted a spate of articles, further getting out the message.
The public relations story for Coca-Cola gets worse. New York City Councilperson Hiram Monserrate, whose district includes many Colombian Americans, led a delegation to Colombia to investigate the claims against Coca-Cola. The report (www.corporate-campaign. org) is a stinging condemnation. As it says, “Most troubling to the delegation were the persistent allegations that paramilitary violence against workers was done with the knowledge of and likely under the direction of company managers. The physical access that paramilitaries have had to Coca- Cola bottling plants is impossible without company knowledge and/or tacit approval. Shockingly, company officials admitted to the delegation that they had never investigated the ties between plant managers and paramilitaries. The company’s inaction and its ongoing refusal to take any responsibility for the human rights crisis faced by its workforce in Colombia demonstrates—at best—disregard for the lives of its workers.” Monserrate will also be holding public hearings into this case in September.
T hough SINALTRAINAL was calling for a general boycott of all Coke products, Campaign to Stop Killer Coke took a different tack. Rogers doesn’t want, he says, “some reporter saying to me every month or two or three ‘Your campaign isn’t working, they’re selling more coke.’” A boycott is hard to do to so ubiquitous a company, especially when many of their products don’t contain the words “Coca-Cola” on them. Additionally there is the problem of calling for a boycott on a company that has some union workers, notably some of the delivery drivers and bottlers. Instead, Campaign to Stop Killer Coke has targeted exclusive distribution contracts, which allow Coca-Cola to be the only product at an institution.
Some of their biggest successes to date have been with universities. Three colleges in the U.S., and more internationally, have can- celled their contracts with Coke. When Carleton College, a small school of 2,000 students in Mississippi, held hearings on whether or not to renew their contracts, five representatives from Coca-Cola, including two executives, came to try to convince the students in charge of the contract to renew. Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, in alliance with students, also showed up to debate them. Their contract was not renewed. There are also battles for upcoming contract renewals at Rutgers University and the University of Massachusetts, where Campaign to Stop Killer Coke sent 5,000 emails to every administrator, professor, and staff member on campus.
Many unions and labor councils have also stopped using Coke products, including the ILWU, UAW’s biggest GM local in Detroit, and labor councils in Vancouver and Ontario. But the big fight in the future, the campaign claims, will be with government contracts. There is an upcoming contract to supply soft drinks to all government buildings in New York, which could mean hundreds of millions of dollars. Coinciding with councilperson Monserrate’s hearings into Coca- Cola’s connection to these abuses, Campaign to Stop Killer Coke will be working to keep Coke from getting the contract. Rogers even has other corporations do some of the work for him in the form of Coke’s competitors. As he says, “We’re reaching out to any and all of Coca-Cola’s competitors, saying to them, ‘This is where we’re going after Coke. You get in there and take your best shot. Take their market.’” This will be especially effective in the New York government contract, where Pepsi and Snapple are also vying for distribution rights.
S ome of the most effective weapons in Rogers’s arsenal are his attacks against decision makers in the company, rather than the company as a faceless entity. Rogers explains: “You have to personalize your campaign. Bricks, mortar, and machinery don’t make decisions that seriously hurt workers and communities. People do. That’s why you always have to personalize a campaign. You have to find out who really has the power or can influence the decision to resolve this situation. So we analyze the company, look at its board, look at top officers. They have to be held responsible and you have to take the fight to their doorsteps and into their boardroom.”
In Rogers’s sights—Suntrust Banks and Warren Buffet. Campaign to Stop Killer Coke and other union and labor groups are calling for a boycott of and disinvestment in Suntrust Banks. Their relationship with Coca-Cola is described by Rogers: “I’ve studied corporate structure for years, this is the most incestuous relationship I’ve ever seen.” Suntrust took Coke public in 1919, and there are six “interlocks” of present and former CEO’s sitting on each other’s boards of directors; even on Coke-FEMSA and Panamco (the bottling companies also named in the suit). Warren Buffet, the billionaire who was on Governor Schwarzenegger’s campaign as an advisor and is now advising presidential hopeful John Kerry, is the largest holder of Coca-Cola stock and is the fifth largest stockholder in Suntrust Banks.
Fortune M agazine describes Coca-Cola’s leadership as “Coca- Cola keiretsu because it so resembles the web of interlocking relationships typical of corporate boards in Japan” (though they hasten to point out that this isn’t illegal). Rogers believes that these connected groups and individuals are much more vulnerable than the company. While Buffet may react to negative publicity, an institution with fiduciary responsibility to its investors like a bank is especially vulnerable. “I maintain that if there’s enough pressure put on Suntrust, that this situation in Colombia will be resolved very quickly.”
A Winnable Fight
C oca-Cola claims that they do not own the bottling companies in Colombia, so that even were those companies committing crimes, there would be nothing Coke could do about it. But history disagrees.
In the 1980s in Guatemala, many organizers trying to unionize workers at Coca-Cola bottling plants were killed. Due to intense international pressure, Coca-Cola, which didn’t own those bottling companies either, threatened to pull out as their client and the situation changed immediately. In addition to being the major client of the plants in Colombia, Coke and its subsidiaries own nearly 50 percent of the stock of the bottling companies and all of the series “C” preferred stock—meaning they have veto power over any mergers or major changes.
Rogers doesn’t doubt that Coke will eventually buckle to the bad publicity, but is concerned over the time frame. “We need a lot of help in volunteers. More money means getting this resolved more quickly.” While they say they can use help, it is an object lesson what a staff of only a handful on no budget can accomplish.
Rogers is certainly confident about his tactics and organization. As he says, “I’ve had very big players in the corporate world try to get me to work for them. I wish some of the top union leaders treated me the way union busters do. But, unfortunately, that’s one of the big problems within the labor movement. There’s not a lot of real commitment or a real analysis of how you take on the corporate and political structure. There’s a lot of good people who can do a lot of good stuff but they don’t really get it.”
In 1994, with the Republicans in control of Congress, Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) pushed for “corrective legislation” targeting the kind of campaign CCI advocates and calling for a full committee investigation. This was dropped rather unceremoniously over free speech objections. But it’s clear that corporate-style campaigning has major corporations worried.
Ian Werkheiser is a teacher and freelance writer living in Japan.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
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MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
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NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
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LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
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VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
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OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.