Berkeley and Oakland’s city councils have voted to boycott all firms and financial institutions involved in President Trump’s planned US-Mexico border wall.
Furthermore, San Francisco is also considering boycotting those who finance or construct the project, in what many consider a dangerous precedent.
Berkeley unanimously passed the resolution last week, while Oakland was due to vote on it on March 21. In both cases, the cities decided stop doing business with construction, engineering, planning and IT business involved in the wall project, as well as their subsidiaries, financial institutions and subcontractors.
Oakland City Council member Abel Guillén, who sponsored the bill, explains: “A government should reflect the values and goals of the community it serves. Oakland has historically been and remains today a diverse community, with a great many of its residents having come as immigrants and refugees from all corners of the globe.
“With this ban, the City of Oakland is taking a practical stand against a wall that is morally repugnant, economically unwise and unlikely to make our nation any more secure. I hope more communities around the country will join us in withholding their public dollars from companies that want to profit off this divisive wall and the human misery it embodies.”
In San Francisco, the legislation was proposed by two supervisors on March 21, with no date set for the vote yet. The decisions are timely, as the US Department of Homeland Security has begun receiving proposals for the design and build of the wall, with a first selection of bidders expected by May 3.
It reflects a growing trend of local political activism against the US’ most divisive administration in decades, and a tendency for cities to make political stands against private companies engaged in activities they disagree with.
Some in the banking sector tell GTR that a pre-announced boycott is better than reactionary measures such as Seattle’s decision to divest from Wells Fargo based on its recent fraud scandal and involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). At least, banks and companies could step into projects with all the information they need about a potential backlash.
However, construction industry officials have claimed that this will cause a dangerous precedent.
Brian Turmail, senior executive director of public affairs at Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA), a body representing the construction industry, explains: “It’s very disappointing that local politicians would propose measures to exclude hard-working Americans just because they are doing honest work on behalf of the US government. After all, federally-funded construction work provides living-wage middle-class jobs that many of these same politicians spend a lot of time wanting to create.”
He tells GTR that not only will this decision raise construction costs in the cities involved, by limiting the number and variety of bidders on projects, but it also opens a Pandora’s box of questionable “purity tests”.
“What’s to stop the next community from putting in place an exclusionary ban for firms that build multi-gender bathrooms, or federally-funded facilities to accommodate immigrants? When we start questioning the value of performing work for the US government, that’s a very slippery slope.
“The appropriate thing is for these politicians to work through the democratic process to make sure their concerns are heard, but when you start excluding workers because their employers are doing legal, fully-funded, publicly-vetted, openly-competed work, you are engaging in autocratic practices – this is fear and intimidation, and that’s not something a democratic government ought to engage in,” he adds.
In the case of Oakland, there was no consultation with AGCA before introducing the legislation, and Turmail explains that the association is now will “pursue any and all likely options to address these measures, should they be enacted”.