CHICAGO — “Privatizing Social Security may be good business for Charles Schwab, but it’s a bad deal for working Americans,” Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon told the multiracial and multigenerational crowd of 300 that overflowed the sidewalk in front of the giant investment firm’s office here. “The stock market is a gamble,” Gannon continued, “I’ve got a mother who is 83, a daughter who is 22 and I’m 52. Privatization puts us all in jeopardy.”

On March 31, in 70 cities and towns across the country, thousands of Americans picketed in front of Charles Schwab offices demanding the brokerage firm drop its support for the privatization and destruction of Social Security. More than 45,000 e-mails and calls went into the Schwab offices with the message, “Don’t pick our pockets to line yours.” The demonstrations were the largest grassroots, single-day action ever against Social Security privatization.

Last year Charles Schwab Corp. ranked 25th on the “101 Dumbest Moments in Business,” a yearly list of corporate blunders published by Business 2.0 magazine. The investment firm earned that position when it axed 401(k) matching dollars for its own employees during a campaign to persuade investors to trust the company with their retirement savings.

This year the company may sail to the top of the list with its mulish support of the Bush administration’s plan to privatize the much-beloved and effective Social Security insurance system. The corporation is a key member of business-backed lobbying groups working with the White House to introduce private accounts as part of any Social Security “reform.”

William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois, lit the Chicago crowd on fire when he called on Schwab to get its “greedy, grimy, greasy, gritty hands” off Social Security. “There’s a lot of talk about class warfare. Well, we didn’t ask for this fight. But if it’s a fight you want, it’s a fight you’ll get,” he said.

McNary and Gannon led a delegation, which included Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), to deliver a letter to Schwab offices calling on the corporation to withdraw its support for privatization. Building security guards stopped Gannon at the revolving door. After a short standoff, a message came down from Schwab management: They didn’t want the letter.

“It’s a sad day in America when we can’t deliver a letter on behalf of working men and women,” Gannon told the press. Looking directly into television cameras, McNary said, “If Charles Schwab wants to make money that’s fine. But they can make it somewhere else. They will not make money on our Social Security system.”

One Schwab rival, Edward D. Jones & Co., withdrew its support from the pro-privatization lobbying group Alliance for Worker Retirement on Feb. 10 as a result of union and community pressure.

The White House has promised to pass privatization legislation this year. Democrats, backed by the unprecedented grassroots pressure, have rejected any private accounts using Social Security funds.

Numerous Republican lawmakers are feeling the grassroots pressure, too. House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa are pessimistic about any Social Security overhaul for this year.

The battle to defend the country’s most basic and best-run social safety program reflects the deep opposition to the direction of the Bush administration. “There’s something more important than greed,” said Margaret Blackshere, Illinois AFL-CIO president. “It’s the welfare of our families, seniors and disabled. Caring for people is what our country is about.”

Rallies around the nation

SAN FRANCISCO: Some 2,000 demonstrators made a human chain surrounding San-Francisco-based Charles Schwab home office March 31. Demonstrators also demanded that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger drop his proposal to privatize pensions for all new public workers.

Schwab has given $400,000 to the Republican agenda in California, and its executives were among guests at a recent fundraiser to promote Schwarzenegger’s objectives, which include state pension privatization.

“The only thing that is broken is the trust that Social Security will be there when we need it,” California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski said, as he pointed out the parallels between Bush’s and Schwarzenegger’s plans.

“Young workers stand to lose over $150,000 in benefits over their lifetime if Social Security is privatized!” declared Young Workers United leader Chris Jackson.

Betty Muruato, a member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 in San Jose, was joined at the protest by her two young nieces, Julia and Amanda Summers. Their participation was important, Muruato said, because “it’s the next generation that will be hurt the most.”

— Marilyn Bechtel

HOUSTON: We held a small noontime picket line in front of the local Schwab office, in an upscale shopping center, located in a heavily Republican congressional district.
They told us there had never been a protest in that shopping center before. There were a lot of people in their shiny Mercedes who drove by and shot us the finger or gave us thumbs down. However, there were also a lot of people who drove by and gave us thumbs up. One pretty young woman came out of the Schwab office and got in her shiny, new, black Mercedes and as she drove off (from the safety of her high performance vehicle) yelled, “Why don’t you get a f—— job?” One of the workers shot back to her, “I’ve got one, do you?” As I stood by the street holding my sign, an old woman pulled up to me and rolled her window down. I looked inside and could see a wheelchair. She said, “Thank you so much for doing this.” I gave her a leaflet and told her, “We all have to work together on this.”

— Paul Hill

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.: The “In This Together” coalition held a town hall meeting at the CUNY college here, attracting hundreds of people. Rep. Vito Fosella (R-N.Y.), the only congressperson from NYC who supports Bush’s privatization plan, was slated to come but failed to show. Worried about cuts to the program, Staten Island resident Sue Macananama told the audience that her family had only been able to survive after her father passed away because of the dependents’ benefits offered by Social Security.
“Every month,” Macananama said, “my mother would show us the check, and say ‘Thank God for Social Security.’”

— Dan Margolis

BATAVIA, Ill.: They were young and old; male and female; Black, Hispanic and white; and dressed in everything from a tuxedo to jeans.
But the message was the same from about 300 people who stood along River Street in downtown Batavia, April 2, in front of the office of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert: Do not privatize Social Security.

“This is about our children and grandchildren,” said Auroran Art Velasquez, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens Council 5218. “That’s what we’re here about — to protect their rights.”

— Steve Lord
(Aurora Beacon-News)