CHICAGO — A new campaign to build opposition in Illinois to President Bush’s Social Security privatization scheme kicked off here Feb. 14 with a picket line at the Charles Schwab Corp.

Illinoisans to Protect Social Security marked Valentine’s Day by carrying pink signs that said, “Hands off Social Security” and “No sweetheart deals for Wall Street.” The coalition includes trade unionists, retirees, students and the disabled, as well as religious, consumer and community groups.

“We are at Charles Schwab Company because they are a key Wall Street investment firm that has long driven Social Security privatization,” said William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois.

Schwab is the world’s largest discount broker and manager of 401(k) plans and other retirement funds. Schwab’s profits fell 64 percent in the last quarter, yet they have embarked on a corporate expansion in anticipation of profits from the privatization of Social Security.

“Privatization will give Schwab an opportunity to reap enormous profits at the expense of working families,” said John Cameron, political director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. “This fight is about protecting the very fabric of our society.”

McNary added, “There is no crisis [in] Social Security. There are reasonable and responsible ways to strengthen it without destroying it. Social Security is a promise from one generation to the next and helps us all.” The Bush plan would cause a budget deficit explosion and pass along a multi-trillion dollar debt onto future generations, he said.

“We’ve heard a lot about values lately,” said Devon Novgorodoff of the Chicago Coalition of College Democrats. But President Bush “doesn’t value the security of retirees, only the well-lined pockets of U.S. corporations.”

Novgorodoff said young workers and students have the most to lose from the scheme because they face severe cuts in Social Security benefits.

Hal Gullett, president of the Illinois Alliance of Retired Americans, said, “Without Social Security, half of seniors would be mired in poverty. It will only make retirement less secure.” He pointed out that 47 million Americans get Social Security, including 8 million who are disabled and 7 million surviving children of deceased workers.

The coalition wants to build a grassroots opposition in every congressional district in the state, especially in those with Republican representatives. Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert is a key target. Hastert is already sensing broad opposition to the scheme. On Feb. 11, he told the Chicago Tribune that Bush had so far failed to convince the American people that there was a crisis. He said that Bush “couldn’t jam change down people’s throats” and the only way it could get through was with bipartisan support.

The coalition announced it will be launching a postcard campaign and urged people to attend town hall meetings representatives will be sponsoring in their districts. Larger rallies are planned for the spring.

For information, call Hannah Lehman at (312) 427-2114, ext. 400.