In the News: Strikes and Boycotts

Students explore two forms of nonviolent protest, strikes and boycotts, using as case studies the strike by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and the #DeleteUber campaign, both in response to an immigration ban imposed by President Trump.  


Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • learn the definitions of strike and boycott
  • analyze a primary source, the strike announcement by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance
  • summarize the #DeleteUber action and Uber boycott
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the strike and boycott


Ask students what they already know about President Trump’s executive order on immigration, signed on January 27, 2017.  All students will need a clear understanding of the president’s action as a context for understanding the protests that followed. Use the following information to supplement, if necessary.

On Friday, January 27, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that barred people from seven Muslim majority countries - Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia - from entering the United States for 90 days. The order also suspended the U.S.’s entire refugee program for 120 days and indefinitely blocked Syrian refugees from entering the country. Thousands of people who had been planning to come to the U.S. (some after years of preparation and vetting) were either prevented from getting on their planes or detained at airports in the U.S.

Across the country, demonstrations against the ban began almost immediately, many of them at airports.

On Saturday, January 28, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance staged a one-hour strike against the ban. From 6 to 7 pm, they refused to transport people to or from the international terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City.

In response to the executive order, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance issued a statement announcing their strike and explaining the reasons behind it.

Next, ask students to break into small groups, and give them copies of the two handouts they’ll be using in their groups:

Small Group Activities

Small Group Activity 1
Analyzing a Primary Source: Taxi Workers Statement

Ask students to read  the New York Taxi Workers Alliance statement announcing their strike and explaining the reasons behind it.

Then, work together to answer the questions that follow the statement.


Small Group Activity 2
Taking Action: Strike!

Once students have completed Activity 1, explain the following:

Usually, a strike is a walkout by workers to pressure their employer for higher pay, better working conditions, and/or better benefits. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines "strike" this way:

"to stop work in order to force an employer to comply with demands"

But there is another kind of strike called a sympathy strike. In a sympathy strike, employees stop working to show solidarity, usually with other workers. In the case of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, however, the strike at JFK Airport showed solidarity with refugees and detained immigrants and travelers.

With your group, imagine yourselves in the position of the taxi drivers on January 27. Imagine that you are at a meeting in which one worker has proposed a one-hour sympathy strike to show solidarity with refugees and immigrants.

Would your group support the proposal?  Would you want to alter the proposed plan is some way? Fill in the Decision-Making Tool to help you think clearly about the decision.

After students have completed the activity, ask for volunteers from each group to briefly share what their group decided and why.

Small Group Activity 3
Taking Action: Boycott!

During their one-hour strike, New York taxi drivers refused to drop off or pick up passengers at JFK Airport’s international terminal. Thousands of people gathered at JFK to join the taxi drivers in their protest against the Muslim ban.

Uber drivers, however, did not honor the strike. They continued to work at the airport.

Many people who protested the ban believed that Uber should have honored the strike, and joined with the taxi drivers to support immigrants and refugees. So they decided to express their unhappiness with Uber’s decision.

Thus began the #DeleteUber campaign on social media. Within the week, 200,000 people had deleted their Uber accounts, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick had stepped down from his position on the president’s business advisory council.

Refusing to use Uber in order to protest the company’s actions is an example of a boycott. Merriam Webster defines the term this way:

"to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (as a person, store, or organization) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions"

With your group, discuss whether you yourself would stop using Uber because the company did not honor the taxi workers strike and did not, until days later, speak out against the travel ban.

Taking Action: What can you do?

Reconvene the group. Ask volunteers to say whether or not they would support the Uber ban. Why or why not?

Tell students that (as of February 2017), this story is not over. More strikes were called to protest the Muslim travel ban. For example, Yemeni-Americans closed their shops for a day as a protest.

Invite students to:

  • Track the news to see what other groups are striking and what other boycotts are being advocated.  Have students report back about strikes and boycotts they have seen in the news.
  • Support a strike or boycott, if they are interested:  Have students discuss how they might support striking workers, or a boycott. Are there boycotts of companies or products you will join to protest injustice?

For further exploration of boycotts and their history, see this TeachableMoment lesson. For more on strikes, see this brief lesson.

Optional assignment 

Ask students to research sympathy strikes that have happened in the past, and select one that they find especially inspiring or intriguing. Have students write a brief essay in which they:

  • provide an overview of the sympathy strike, including its purpose and its impact
  • explain why they find this strike inspiring or intriguing
  • explain what relevance the strike has to today

Background Reading