Workers gave pink slips to the country's top bankers Tuesday morning
to culminate three days of protests, billed as the Showdown in Chicago,
during the American Bankers' Association's annual meeting.
Bbefore a jeering and cheering crowd of 5,000 union members and
activists, Armando Robles, president of UE Local 1110 and a leader of
the Republic Windows factory occupation last year, attached big,
fluorescent pink slips to larger-than-life cutouts of retiring Bank of
America CEO Ken Lewis, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf and JP Morgan Chase
CEO James Dimon.
The three CEOs were probably among the bank officials meeting in the
Sheraton behind the stage that featured speeches by AFL-CIO President
Richard Trumka, Change to Win Chairwoman Anna Burger, the Rev. Jesse
Jackson and workers and community leaders.
After "firing" the bank CEOs, Adam Kader of the workers group Arise
Chicago presented a notice that the banks' $17.8 trillion "loan" in
taxpayer-bailout funds is due since, he said, banks have not complied
with the conditions placed on the handout by the people.
Tuesday's march and rally, like the previous two days of protest,
featured individual stories of families and communities impacted by
foreclosures, high interest rates and frozen credit markets sparked by
the economic crisis and unrelieved by the various bank bailouts.
Along with decrying the financial deregulation that facilitated the
economic crisis and the "corporate greed" exhibited in exorbitant
bonuses and salaries for industry executives even after the bailout,
protesters made several concrete demands.
They want a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), as proposed
by the Obama administration, which would cover bank and non-bank
financial services. They want financial industry regulation --
especially of the "shadow markets" largely blamed for causing the
economic crisis -- and limits on executive compensation.
They want a moratorium on foreclosures and the loosening of credit
at low interest rates to help pay student loans, let people stay in
their homes and protect small businesses and the jobs they offer. And
they want banks to extend credit and lower interest rates to help ease
the crunches in state budgets that have led to social programs being
slashed and jobs gutted nationwide.
On Monday, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila Bair addressed protesters and voiced support for the CFPA.
"I strongly support this agency, yes I do; we need it," she said.
"Looking at indecipherable credit card statements and documents and
mortgages you can't understand and APRs and payday loans and high
overdraft fees, I don't see how anybody can say we've done a good job
of protecting consumers of financial services ... we need this new agency.
"The absence of a national standard was a contributing factor to our
current economic turmoil," she said and promised the CFPA would for the
first time examine the non-bank "shadow sector" of the financial
services industry. She also called for doing away with the
"too-big-to-fail doctrine," saying "no more bailouts, no more bailouts."
The ABA's Web site says that since the fall of 2008 it has also
supported stepped-up financial regulation, including the regulation of
non-banks, the revision of "too-big-to-fail" policies and the
development of a systemic risk regulator. But regardless of its
promises for the future, protesters said the banking industry needs to
take action now to help solve the problems they have created.
Child care provider Angenita Tanner told the crowd how she's in
danger of losing her business and her livelihood, and her clients
losing their child care, because of state budget cuts endangering the
"Families have asked me to barter, and now they pay me in food instead of money," she said.
An SEIU janitor, Maria Guerra, told the crowd how she has felt
squeezed from both ends by JP Morgan Chase bank -- blaming it for
helping cause the economic crisis, then refusing to help her family
even after it received $45 billion in bailout funds.
"My job is not the best, but I used to feel lucky because I could save enough to buy a house," she said.
Guerra cosigned her brother-in-law's mortgage with Chase, and after
he lost his job, and then his unemployment benefits ran out, his house
went into foreclosure.
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"Chase didn't want to help us," she said. "They always had an
excuse. After months of paperwork, they told us we didn't qualify for
help. How could we not qualify? My brother (in law) lost his job
because of the bad economy caused by the banks."
They tried to sell the home, but couldn't find a buyer. "Now we have
filled out paperwork to voluntarily give the house to Chase," she said.
Now her own credit is shot, and she worries about losing her home,
which she bought with a $50,000 down-payment but has now plummeted in
"I don't know what will happen to my family," she said.
Denise Dixon, executive director of the group Action Now, noted that
the crisis has disproportionately affected urban communities of color
already stressed by violence, poverty and disinvestment. She said the
crisis has "caused the largest transfer of wealth the African American
community has ever seen," and described families all over the country
sitting on eggshells knowing any knock at the door could be an eviction
She read off a "roll call" of Chicago neighborhoods slammed by
foreclosures, with nearly a thousand since 2007 in even upscale
neighborhoods like Near North and 1,500 to more than 2,000 in largely
African American south and west side neighborhoods. In all, Chicago has
suffered 44,091 foreclosures and the nation more than 5 million since
the economic crisis began.
Protest leaders also noted that every 13 seconds a home goes into
foreclosure; that 6 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of
the crisis; that homeowners have lost $6 trillion in home value and
local governments up to $58 billion in property taxes, thanks to
plummeting home values. Not to mention "skyrocketing bank and credit
card fees" and "vanishing pensions and 401(k)s
Trumka called for "cleaning up Wall Street's reeking garbage that is
contaminating Main Street," in part by reforming the Federal Reserve or
"asking the Federal Reserve to step aside to have a real public agency
to protect the public from the banks and the bankers."
"We didn't put you back in business so you could pay billions in
bonuses to the suits," said Trumka. "Or to lobby on Capitol Hill to
fight the financial reforms we so badly need ... you treated the money we
worked so hard to earn like Monopoly money."
Marchers seemed to all have personal stories of foreclosure, job
loss or struggling to pay for health care. Helen Scott Owens, an
80-year-old home-care worker and SEIU member, said she fears for her
job because of state budget cuts and her clients have trouble affording
Pastor John Kyles said his south side parishioners live in constant fear of foreclosure.
Joe Losbaker, chief steward for the SEIU local at the University of
Illinois at Chicago, placed the blame on the government more than banks.
"The bankers can't really do anything," he said. "I want to see the
government stop bailing them out. They've given trillions to the banks
and the war in Iraq. How about a trillion for jobs, food, schools and a
moratorium on foreclosures."
Protesters hung banners off bridges and out a window of the Sheraton
hotel. They crashed a "Roaring '20s" cocktail party and the ABA ball,
calling the Roaring '20s theme especially ironic. Speakers and marchers
decried the luxurious food and accommodations they are sure the bankers
were enjoying during the conference.
"Before they got here, they spent $35 million lobbying Congress to
protect life the way it is, where they take everything and we get the
crumbs," said Change to Win Chairwoman Anna Burger. "Then they come to
Chicago to celebrate what a good job they did."
Marchers had mixed opinions on whether the bankers inside the
conference were actually listening to the demands outside. Owens, the
home-care worker, thought so.
"They don't want to listen to us, but they have to," she said. "We're too loud."