CHICAGO - Over a thousand workers, labor leaders, faith-based and community activists marched throughout the financial district here Wednesday demanding Congress do what's right and pass financial reform. Wall Street greed and big banks created the recession and they should be the ones to fix the economic crisis by rebuilding America with jobs, activists said.
"Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other big banks played casino with our economy and it's working people that are paying the price because of their gambling," said Ramon Becerra, senior field representative with the AFL-CIO Midwest region.
Organizers say since the recession began, nearly 9 million jobs have been lost nationwide. In Chicago alone 111,500 jobs have been lost over the last year and currently 445,300 are unemployed here. As families continue to lose their jobs, homes, and retirement savings, Wall Street banks took hundreds of billions in taxpayer bailouts and paid executives $145 billion in pay and bonuses last year, activists said. And now they're spending millions lobbying to kill financial reform in Congress.
David Borris, owner of Hel's Kitchen, a small catering company in the northern suburbs said, "We can longer allow Wall Street to make billions of dollars while millions on Main Street lose their jobs and their life savings."
Borris continued, "Our founding fathers never intended this country to be a place where the wealthy elite take advantage of the common working man."
"It's time for Congress to do what they were elected to do and that's represent the people not the wealthy banks," said Borris. "And this is exactly why we need them to pass financial reform now."
Protestors at the event want Wall Street to stop standing in the way of federal reform, start lending to communities and small businesses and pay a fair share to restore jobs throughout the country that they helped destroy.
Hundreds of men and women representing dozens of unions held signs shouting, "Workers united will never be defeated," and "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!"
Mike Brosseit has been a painter for 25 years and was at the rally representing the Painter's Union District Council 14. He said it's absolutely outrageous that as thousands of workers are being laid off, Wall Street executives continue to receive ridiculous bonuses.
"It's not acceptable and they should help keep people working," said Brosseit. "It's never enough for them and Wall Street greed is destroying our nation."
Donna R. LaMontagna, representing the Office Professional Employees International Union said Wall Street greed has bled almost every American family.
"America was built by the working class and it's time that Congress do the right thing," she said.
Michael E. Taylor with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 agrees and said too many workers have been laid off recently at the Chicago Transit Authority. "We deserve the right to good jobs with fair wages and benefits." It's not right that working men and women have to struggle to put food on the table to support their families, he said. "This is America, land of the free and fairness. It's time for these big banks to operate at the same standards as everyone else," he said. "Losing jobs and losing homes should be illegal."
Carl Rosen, president of the Western Region of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America said, "We're tired of all the bailouts going to Wall Street and the only way to fix the economy is with jobs and we need them now. And if the private sector isn't going to do it then the federal government needs to step up."
Protestors began the event at the office of Goldman Sachs, the firm that has become symbolic of the Wall Street greed team, in which profit-seeking has led to risky behavior and was ultimately responsible for the economic crash. Marchers demonstrated throughout Chicago's financial district and ended up at Federal Plaza.
"Enough is enough," said Dennis Gannon, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor. "It's time to put people back to work and we want to make sure the banks hear us loud and clear. We are fed up with their behavior and we are not going to take it anymore."
Also at the rally was Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic nominee running for a U.S. Senate seat. Giannoulias encouraged the massive crowd to tell everyone they know to call their congressional representatives and demand that they pass financial reform.
On Thursday more than 20,000 are expected to rally for financial reform in New York City at the heart of the world's financial district.
Photo: Pepe Lozano