These Raging Grannies Shake It Outside The Apple Store For Worker’s Rights [Interview]


Raging Grannies protest outside the Palo Alto store Feb. 13
Raging Grannies protest outside the Palo Alto store Feb. 13

If you happen by the Palo Alto Apple Store Monday afternoon, that group of elderly women dressed in white dancing the robot to techno music on the sidewalk aren’t some funky flashmob.

They’re Raging Grannies, and they’re are mad as hell about worker conditions in China where Apple products are made.

Galvanized by a recent Mike Daisey story on NPR about Foxconn, they’re staging monthly protests outside the Palo Alto Apple store. They’ll be on the sidewalk grooving to bring more attention to Apple’s labor policies in China at 3 p.m. on March 12.


Cult of Mac talked to Raging Grannie Ruth Robertson, 59, about why the mad matriarchs will continue to rile things up. The dozen or so “grannies” (members aren’t necessarily mothers or grandmothers, they just need to embrace the combative spirit) range in age from 59 to 94. This isn’t the first tech-related protest of the San Francisco Bay Area Action League of the international activist group; they also brought some old-school chants to a protest on war-mongering video games.

Cult of Mac: Why target the Palo Alto store?

Ruth Robertson: It’s our local store, our members live from San Francisco to San Jose, and we felt it was the right place to make a point about the Mac worship and the Steve Jobs worship in this area.

When Jobs died, bless his heart, they would’ve flown every flag at half mast if they could have. Storefronts had his picture draped in black, you’d have thought this guy was a god…

I won’t deny that he was a genius, but for all his genius, he was not necessarily a good person. And people who live around here kind of know that. His daughter, the one he didn’t want to recognize, went to school with our kids…We know he shouldn’t be praised like Gandhi and yet he was…

We also knew there were bad things behind how these products are made, but Daisey’s piece really brought home the facts…We knew it was bad, we just didn’t have the details – like former workers not being able to use their hands from repetitive motion injuries – until that story.

CoM: In the video of the February protest (see above), a guy walks right past the Raging Grannies – does that happen often?

RR: That’s not surprising at all, most people just don’t want to get involved, they don’t want to hear about it, they don’t want to think about it. Those same people often go across street and watch because they want to know what’s going on. If they do pass by, we try to give them a handout to take with them and read later. It’s not unusual that people ignore us…At an Apple store, they’re playing with the toys, they don’t want to hear about it…

CoM: So why do you keep doing it?

RR: We do get the attention of some people…We also get on TV and reach more people that way. The last time the story of the day was about Apple stock hitting $500 a share, but a small part of that was “here’s the negative side.” [Our protest] was maybe 20 seconds in a two-minute news report, but we try to bring some balance to a story, so it’s not this rah-rah Apple fest.

CoM: Protest groups like SumOfUs have said they own Apple products and aren’t planning to boycott the company, do you feel the same? Or is a consumer boycott in the works?

RR: A dozen grannies calling for a boycott would be ineffective. Those of us who have Apple products, including myself, like them except we do feel there’s a great deal of planned obsolescence…

Personally, I think the products Apple makes are very exciting. I don’t wait in line or jump up and down with excitement to get them or anything, but when everyone is using them, you have to keep up. I had a job where I needed to use apps, so in order to work you need to have these things. That’s when I upgrade.
A boycott wouldn’t be possible because we live in the modern world.

CoM: What outcome do you hope for?

RR: There won’t be a single outcome, we want to keep visibility on the issue. Here’s the thing: Apple is pretty arrogant, they know if we have a little protest and get some press they’ll have more press too. We’re happy to be the other side of the Apple story. We’re going to be around on this issue on a regular day when people are thinking about buying another Apple product…We want to keep the issue visible and, you know, in a way we like being a thorn in Apple’s side…

CoM: Has Apple responded?

RR: They’re keeping an eye on us. We gave a head’s up to the press the day before a protest, so Apple sent a young spokeswoman to manage the scene. When we arrived, there were two TV stations and she was already talking to the cameramen, trying to do damage control…

If they have to spend a little time and a little money getting a spokesperson on the scene, that’s good. They’re a huge company and we’re a dozen older women. We’re not going to go inside or scream and yell, we’re being legal, staying on the sidewalk. We want to keep forcing them to address the issue…

Apple is one of the world’s most valuable companies, if they can’t do the right thing, who can?

  • gettysburg11s

    Clearly, these grannies don’t understand anything about working in China or Apple’s efforts to make things better for workers there.  The fact is, Apple has gone through great lengths to get the Chinese to treat their workers better.  Even though there is plenty of room for improvement, things have changed considerably already.  Too bad no one bothers to do actual research before they picket.  Instead, they depend on our totally slanted and bias national news media. 

  • prof_peabody

    This is sad.  Usually I love the raging grannies but they are misinformed here.  I would be embarrassed if I were they.  

  • Bob Forsberg

    A bunch of old noisy ladies with a cause who don’t understand the world….or maybe once did and can’t remember anymore…this deserves blog space? Instead of [Interview] it warrants [Comedy].

  • FriarNurgle

    Working conditions in China will continue to get better. It’ll happen on it’s own. It did here during our industrial revolution. The major issue is that most of these workers will be replaced in 5-10 years when they are replaced with automation. 

  • Moog

    Hypocrites.  Target the manufacturers of your cheap sunglasses and shoes…

  • Killer_Kadoogan

    Proof that age is no barrier to stupidity and being attention whores. Why didn’t COM ask them their feelings on Dell, Microsoft, HP etc, and when they will be demonstrating outside their stores or offices?

  • Nathan Glass

    This attack on Apple is because they are the most valuable company in the world… that’s it. If people actually gave a shit about the Chinese Worker they would stop buying shit made in China and boycott all companies who outsource their manufacturing to other countries.

  • James Liddy

    The main problem isn’t workers rights, it’s that in China, there are people willing to work for those wages, and those hours and not complain, or say anything. You fire the ones that complain, and the ones who can’t work are replaced probably within the hour. There are reported queues for these jobs. They have the same problem that serfs did in the Middle Ages, there where too many of them so labor costs where down. When a lot of people died in the Black Plague, labor cost became a premium. Apple is not Foxxcon or any of the other companies that produce these products. The can only do so much to sway them.

  • taylerz

    Ruth — why aren’t you boycotting Intel, Dell and all those companies that manufacture parts at Foxconn? These companies REFUSED to allow the Nightline media team to access their Foxconn factories. Apple allowed them. What does that say?

    I think you’re being paid by Intel and Dell.

  • Honey Badger

    Clearly they are nothing but attention whores. Apple has done and is doing more than any other tech company in this area. Maybe they should visit the factories that make their shoes, clothing  and handbags and then see how they feel about some of Apple’s suppliers.

    The jobs manufacturing Apple’s gear are sought after my many, many people in China. Why? Because the wages and working conditions are some of the very best.

    Kudos to Apple for stepping up and trying to make things better. I’m not saying that this issue isn’t important or that Apple shouldn’t do everything that they can to improve things, but there is only so much that they can do.

    China’s biggest problems are the responsibility of the Chinese government, not Apple. The government should be the one ensuring that ALL workers rights are respected. That can happen by passing workers’ rights laws and then actually enforcing them.

  • Racer X

    bunch of Idiots that suckered you (cult of Mac) into giving them a soapbox

  • gacbmmml

    Not just reported queues. There ARE queues. About 5,000 people a day line up to interview for a job at FOXXCON. They make more than Chinese minimum wage; it’s basically akin to working at McDonald’s here in the States. 

  • morgan3nelson

    CoM – can you add a feature to your site to filter useless articles – especially those by Nicole Martinelli?  This has nothing to do with Apple TECHNOLOGY but only highlights the ignorance of the left minded who are liberal “just because.”

  • ctt1wbw

    Typical protestors.  They protest things which they don’t know or don’t understand.  I doubt many of these grannies has ever been outside the US, much less to China, or any plants outside the country.  You need to have been to Foxconn in order to have an opinion.  

  • Extensor Jones

    I love the “We know he shouldn’t be praised like Gandhi” line. I guess she hasn’t read about Gandhi’s personal failings. SMH

  • Nicole

    You could be entrepreneurial and develop that filter, though I’d probably find it flattering, (since it happened for Xeni Jardin) which I suspect is not your underlying intention…

    But what could be more “cult ” than grannies protesting outside an Apple store? Apple is a symbol, for better or worse, that’s why no one is outside the Best Buy protesting all the Chinese labor that goes into every gadget inside the store…

  • haineux

    I applaud the Grannies. Their spokes granny, at least, has a very intelligent, rational, and reasonable view of most of the issue. Making people more aware is not a bad thing.

    If I were interviewing her, I’d say, “You do realize that pretty much everything you buy was made in China, and Apple enforces that working conditions are among the best — for China. So why protest Apple, and not, say, Dell and Microsoft?”
    I suspect it’s because they think it’ll bring the most attention. Not that this is fair to Apple, but it is a good strategy if your goal is to make people aware of the issue.

  • aardman


  • aardman

    It is obvious that these geezers don’t know much of or understand what they are protesting.  But to describe them as ‘typical protestors’?  Do you know for a fact that most everyone who raises a voice in protest doesn’t really understand what they are protesting?  Or is it just that you are by nature against any form of dissent and instinctively react with disapproval and contempt to any such expression?  Then I invite you to move to your own personal heaven on earth, North Korea or maybe Saudi Arabia.

  • Eve Moran

    but there’s no reason to do better without pressure. foxconn pays $2 an hour and apple products aren’t cheap. at the time of the nightline broadcast, they had 98 billion in cash. their profit margins are amazingly high. why shouldn’t they spend that on more ethical business practices?

  • Eve Moran

    i also believe they protest apple because apple can afford to do better. also, apple has crafted a reputation for being an ethical and empowering sort of company. dell and microsoft would also be meaningful targets, but their products are less glamourous and sought after. anyone who has ever walked past an apple store knows why they are there.

  • zviivz

    This is Foxconn’s problem, not Apple! I don’t think Apple has anything to do with how Foxconn deal with their workers. While the corporate bosses at Foxconn are making tonnes of money from Apple, their workers were exploited (in the name of keeping the cost low). The other thing to understand is that the standard of living in China is very low too. Surely the salary is low in terms of US dollars, but they get everything they needed there. Do keep in mind that they are many people over there who simply wait at the gates hoping to get a job there everyday.

  • Ben Graham

    apple arent going “through great lengths to get the chinese to treat their workers better” at all. There not doing anything at all.

  • Jeff Sheaffer

    It’s nobody’s business who take their business off shore Spend your time keeping ILLEGALS FROM COMING INTO OUR COUNTRY!