Actions at shareholders’ meeting kick off 99 Percent Spring

The 99 Percent Spring last week got started in earnest with two big events. In Detroit, demonstrators on April 25 interrupted GE’s annual shareholders’ meeting to demand that the company pay its fair share of taxes and stop shipping jobs overseas. In San Francisco, demonstrators on April 24 interrupted the Wells Fargo shareholders’ meetings to demand that the bank stop foreclosures and pay its fair share of taxes.

“If we pay our fair share of taxes, then the corporations like GE should pay their fair share, too,” said Ed Jude, who came from Milwaukee to participate in the Detroit GE action, to the Detroit News. “If they paid their taxes like us, there would be less of a strain on our social systems.”

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, GE over the last 10 years has paid $1.8 billion in federal taxes while reporting $80.2 billion in profits, an effective tax rate of 1.8 percent.

During the three-year period when most people were suffering the worst effects of the Great Recession, GE paid no federal income taxes and, instead, received federal tax refunds totaling $4.7 billion.

In 2011, GE for the first time in the last four years paid federal income taxes, but the effective tax rate that it paid was 11.3 percent.

“I don’t think most Americans would consider 11.3 percent, not to mention GE’s long-term effective rate of 1.8 percent, to be ‘normal,’ ” said Bob McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice in a February statement on GE’s 2011 taxes.  “But for GE, taxes are something to be avoided rather than paid.”

Demonstrators, who, according to the News, numbered several thousands, were also angry that while GE was being subsidized with generous tax refunds and rebates, it had eliminated thousands of jobs. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, “GE cut its US workforce by 32,000 between 2004 and 2010.” GE since the 1980s has aggressively sought to outsource jobs to other countries.

About three dozen of the demonstrators went inside to voice their concerns. They tried to present a bill totaling $26.5 billion for unpaid taxes to GE CEO Jeffery Immelt. When Immelt began his speech, protestors got up and yelled, “Pay your fair share.” That continued throughout his speech. Each time protestors interrupted Immelt’s speech, they were hustled outside by security guards.

In San Francisco, about 500 people gathered outside the Wells Fargo shareholders’ meeting. Some linked arms to block entrance to the meeting. Others went inside and interrupted the meeting. They were demanding that Wells Fargo stop its “foreclosure factory” and pay its fair share of taxes. About 20 were arrested.

Outside protestors said that Wells Fargo foreclosure factory had damaged thousands of lives. Sarah Lombardo told Bloomberg that two years ago Wells Fargo foreclosed on her parents’ home after her father was injured in an accident and unable to work and her mother got cancer.

“We are here to put stories to the numbers and faces to the bottom line (of Wells Fargo),” said Lombardo to Bloomberg.

Like GE, Wells Fargo received huge federal tax refunds between 2008 and 2010. During this three-year period, it reported $49.1 billion in profits, but its average effective tax rate was -1.4 percent.

Before it started foreclosing on families like the Lombardos, Wells Fargo received a $43.7 billion bailout from the US government. Since then it has paid executive bonuses and compensation totaling $27 billion, including a $14.3 million bonus to CEO John Stumpf. At the same time, the bank has denied 175,336 homeowners facing foreclosure a mortgage modification that would enable them to keep their homes.

The Bay Area has been the scene of a number of actions to save homes facing foreclosure by Wells Fargo. In March, members of ILWU Local 91 joined the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment to occupy the house of Dexter Cato, a Local 91 member, after it was foreclosed by Wells Fargo and put up for auction. Cato’s wife had died and left him the sole support of his four children.

Cato is one of the Wells Fargo 8, a group of homeowners in the Bay Area standing up to Wells Fargo to stop foreclosures on their homes.

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