ORLANDO, Fla. - The nation's labor movement will hold picket lines and rallies in front of banks and financial institutions in 200 cities across America the week of March 15-20, the AFL-CIO announced at its executive council meeting here yesterday.
Union leaders here said the demonstrations, under the banner "Good Jobs Now, Make Wall Street Pay," will be the first of many mass mobilizations that will bring labor and its allies into the streets throughout the year.
The institutions to be targeted starting March 15 include Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, AIG and Goldman Sachs.
Leaders of more than 50 major unions met for two hours here March 3 to finalize plans to mobilize local unions, labor councils and community allies to descend on the big banks.
"We've already got the plans in place for 90 of those demonstrations and the response is pouring in from local unions and from local labor councils, including ones we have hardly ever heard from," said AFL-CIO Communications Director Denise Mitchell, when the labor leaders broke for lunch.
"The big financial institutions created this crisis, so they should pay to restore the 8.4 million jobs lost as a result of it," said Richard Trumka, the federation's president, as he emerged from the meeting. "In fact, it's 11 million jobs that we need, the 8.4 that they destroyed plus the 2.6 needed to make up for population growth."
Mitchell said the demands on the banks will come down to three things: "Stop refusing to pay your fair share, stop fighting financial reform and start lending to ordinary folks again so they can do business and create jobs."
The announcement of the Week of Action capped a string of labor actions around the country in the last few days including demonstrations in Evansville, Ind., against Whirlpool, which wants to pack up and move to Mexico; a march and rally against job cuts on Florida's Space Coast; and a mass meeting for job creation in Orlando.
The Space Coast cuts, affecting everyone from Machinists union members who tool rockets to Theatrical and Stage Employees members who film takeoffs, would occur at Cape Kennedy if Congress approves President Obama's plan to dump the back-to-the-moon program.
Explaining why the March protests will focus on banks Damon Silver, the AFL-CIO's policy director, said banks not only created the crisis but "they are the ones who can and should pay for the solution."
Although the AFL-CIO backs Obama's demand that banks repay money they got under the Troubled Assets Relief Program, Silver said stronger additional measures are needed to raise the kind of money needed for a massive federal jobs program.
The president's proposal would generate $70 billion at most, Silver said, "but a tiny financial transactions tax would raise $400 billion, enough to create many jobs."
"And they can't use the excuse that this would drive business out of the American markets and into the overseas ones," Trumka said, "because there is strong support for this type of tax in the United Kingdom, in all the European Union countries and elsewhere."
"This type of tax wouldn't hurt serious investors," Silver said, "but would discourage reckless speculators and gamblers who buy and sell at astronomically high frequency rates to make money and run."
Asked by reporters whether labor leaders had talked to the Obama administration about such a tax and whether the administration would support it, Trumka said he had raised the issue and that "it depends upon who you talk to in the administration - some support it and others are not so sure."
Trumka and Silver both also called for higher taxes on CEO pay.
"We need these measures, in addition to measures already supported by the president, those in the House bill and those being called for by many of the organizations in the coalitions for financial reform," Silver said.
Those other measures he was referring to include establishment of a strong consumer protection agency, regulations on the "shadow" markets, including hedge funds, and what has been called the "Volcker proposal" - reinstituting laws that separate the functions of regular and commercial banks.
The GOP-run Congress, back in 1999, passed a bill that tore down the wall between regular and commercial banking, the trading of stocks, bonds and other pieces of paper. Democratic President Bill Clinton signed it into law.
The barrier had been erected by Congress and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt after finance industry excesses plunged the nation into the Great Depression.