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GE Annual Meeting Interrupted by 99 Percent Protesters

Common Dreams staff

Hundreds of protesters affiliated with the "99 Percent" movement disrupted the start of General Electric Co's annual shareholders' meeting in Detroit on Wednesday, in an attack on the largest U.S. conglomerate's low tax rate.

Outside Detroit's Renaissance Center, thousands more demonstrators swarmed the area, chanting "This is What Democracy Looks Like." They were surrounded by dozens of police, including three mounted units.

A 2011 report by think tank Citizens for Tax Justice reported that GE had an effective negative tax rate from 2008 through 2010. CTJ’s summary of GE’s federal income taxes over the past decade shows that:

  • From 2006 to 2011, GE’s net federal income taxes were negative $3.1 billion, despite $38.2 billion in pretax U.S. profits over the six years.
  • Over the past decade, GE’s effective federal income tax rate on its $81.2 billion in pretax U.S. profits has been at most 1.8 percent.

General Electric's CEO Jeff Immelt, a Republican who is one of President Barack Obama's key allies from corporate America and heads up Obama's Job Council, has called for U.S. tax "reform" that would lower the 35 percent statutory corporate tax rate.

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The Detroit News reports:

While several thousand protesters made noise Wednesday in the city's downtown over feelings General Electric isn't paying enough in taxes, three dozen protestors stood up at the beginning of GE's annual shareholder meeting chanting "pay your fair share"

The group was escorted from the meeting room at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center by police and security without incident. They continued their demonstration outside in the lobby. A phalanx of security guards formed outside the ballroom to prevent them from re-entering.

The protesters with ties to the "99 percent" movement — made popular last year in light of corporate bank bailouts — made their frustrations known over GE's tax payments outside the building, stretching into nearby Hart Plaza.

Inside the Renaissance Center, security was tight. Shareholders were required to pass through metal detectors, and endure bag searches and wand scans in order to enter the lobby outside the meeting room. Only registered shareholders were allowed in, but it was clear by the union pins some wore that they would bring the protest inside.

A small group of union activists from the Service Employees International Union tried to enter the meeting with proxies from shareholders, but they were turned away by security and police.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt had planned to come out and mingle with investors but that was canceled out of security concerns.

Outside the Renaissance Center, demonstrators swarmed the area, chanting "this is what democracy looks like." They were held back by dozens of police, including three mounted units.

The protesters were loud and largely non-confrontational as they held up signs demanding that GE pay what they believe is its fair share in taxes. The protests were largely over by 11 a.m.

After gathering at Hart Plaza, a parade of protesters chanted their way to the Detroit River side of the RenCen. Chants of "We are the 99 percent," "GE pay your taxes" and "No justice, no peace" filled the air. The crowd was made up of young and old, black and white, senior citizens, retirees and the fringe elements who seem to show up at any protest.

Police largely kept the protesters to half the street and urged them to stay on sidewalks on the river side of the plaza. Police also locked the doors leading into the RenCen.

On Tuesday, about 20 protesters scuffled with Detroit police before they were escorted out of Cobo Center. The protesters blew whistles and attempted to enter the SAE World Congress being held there, but they were forcibly blocked from doing so.

Immelt defended the company's payment of income taxes after protesters interrupted his speech Tuesday at the event.

"Tax rate was 29 percent last year," Immelt told a couple protesters at Cobo Center as they chanted "pay your fair share" a few feet from where he was speaking.

At Grand Circus Park on Wednesday, half a dozen protesters gathered in the early morning sunshine, watching as the fountain sent a plume of crystal clear water into the air.

It was a second visit to the park for Curtis McGuire who camped in the park last year as part of the "Occupy Detroit" movement.

"We intend to march to the GM building for a large game of 'dodge tax ball,'" said McGuire, who was wearing a "Say Yes to Michigan" badge on his jacket. "Will what we do make a difference? Yes, it will be very powerful especially combined with other protests around the country.

"You have to knock on the door before you get in."

There was a definite, but discreet police presence outside the Renaissance Center early Wednesday as officers in perhaps a dozen cars kept watch on Jefferson Avenue. Police had also erected a temporary chain-link fence outside the massive building, with a single opening for people leaving or entering.

On the sidewalk, a group of about 40 protesters walked peacefully back and forth holding signs reading "Fighting for Pension Fairness — GE."

Earl Hornung drove up from Indiana to show how he felt about his retirement situation.

"We're trying to get a raise in our cost of living allocation," said Hornung, who worked for GE for 28 years. "We have one fellow here who is 90 years old who retired 30 years ago. He's hurting really bad due to inflation. I've been retired for 10 years and inflation is eating away at my pension, too."

At nearby Hart Plaza, several hundred protesters gathered near the fountain, many waving flags while others chanted "we are the 99 percent!" The vast majority of the protesters were from Wisconsin, pulling up in bus after bus.

"There's probably two to three hundred of us," said Milwaukee resident Ed Jude, 56, who had an American flag wrapped around his shoulders. "We are here because we want our voices to be heard. "If we pay our fair share of taxes, then the corporations like GE should pay their fair share, too. If they paid their taxes like us, there would be less of a strain on our social systems."

"Mr. Immelt, when are you going to pay the $26 billion in taxes," asked Shyquetta McElroy, a mother of two who traveled from Milwaukee. "I pay my taxes year after year — why doesn't GE?"

Few, if any, U.S. companies pay the statutory tax rate because of various tax breaks and incentives in the tax code.

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