Anti-Trump “Resistance” groups make millions on merch that isn’t union-made
The Resistance will be branded — but it may not be union-made.
The country’s dizzying new array of anti-Trump groups haven’t just been marching, protesting, and melting Congressional phone lines. Since Election Day, they’ve also been selling millions of dollars worth of merchandise — clothing, pins, bumper stickers, bags — to raise money and advertise the movement. In order to make all the gear, the groups have largely turned to e-commerce businesses.
“People really like to make t-shirts about how much they hate Donald Trump,” said Jay Fanelli, the co-founder of Cotton Bureau, which has made and sold tens of thousands of t-shirts for progressive groups like the podcast network Crooked Media and the Rogue NASA Twitter account. Fanelli says Cotton Bureau earned more revenue in the first three months of 2017 ($2.5 million) than in all of 2016 ($2.3 million), though he declined to say how that money is split between his company and his progressive clients, some of whom donate the proceeds to charities.
Bonfire, an e-commerce platform for designing and selling custom merchandise, say they’ve sold well over a quarter-million Resistance items this year — totaling nearly $3 million — for groups like the Women’s March and Indivisible.
But unlike more established Democratic groups like MoveOn.org, Emily’s List, and the Democratic National Committee, the new wave of anti-Trump organizations are selling gear that’s American-made, but not union-made. The union bug, a term for a union-made label, is typically seen everywhere during Democratic campaigns — on banners, business cards, t-shirts, and campaign literature.
“We support fair labor and choose to invest in companies that invested in their workers,” Milan de Vries, director of analytics at MoveOn.org, said when explaining why their merchandise is union-made or -printed.
The Women’s March turned down a bid from Financial Innovations, the union company that supplied Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and instead went with merchandise via Bonfire that was made in America but not by union workers. Bob Bland, a co-founder of the Women’s March who handled merchandising, said that “we are very committed to the idea that workers need to be able to unionize and that commitment is much bigger than one merchandise campaign.”
Bland explained that they organized the march in a matter of weeks, and she felt Bonfire was best equipped to deal with the turnaround. But that was in January, and the group has still not switched over to a union vendor. Bland says they are exploring options.
As does Indivisible press manager Helen Kalla: “It’s something we are aware of and [union-made products] are something that we are pursuing in our future merchandise.”
The lack of union merch may be more an indication of the precipitous decline in America’s private-sector unions than a lack of ideological unity. There are fewer and fewer options for union-made products in America; some unions even admit privately that they have trouble finding union-made gear for their own members. Additionally, many Resistance groups and unions are collaborating on campaigns like the Fight for $15 minimum wage hike, while unions like Service Employees International and Communications Workers of America threw their support behind the Women’s March and other anti-Trump efforts.
Paul McConnell, vice president of FII Marketing, who also makes anti-Trump gear with union shops for groups like Emily’s List and End Citizens United, said he thinks that the lack of Resistance union swag is a consequence of a “generational gap.” Unions are not nearly as politically powerful or widespread as they were 30 years ago, and as a result, McConnell believes, young progressives “just don’t understand the impact that union has because it hasn’t been at the forefront of the political realm over the last few campaigns.”
Bob Master, the Communications Workers of America political director for the northeast, agreed.
“I don’t blame these young people for not being more conscious of things like union bugs,” he said. “They grew up in a world where only 6.5 percent of the private sector was unionized.”