"Corporations are people, my friend."
It was the gaffe heard around the world. The crowd grew hostile. Challenges were issued. But presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stuck to his guns, responding, "Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?"
Romney is living in a fantasy land.
In an ideal world, corporations would pay workers a living wage with health and pension benefits; and corporations would give shareholders a fair share, not a share diminished by bloated CEO salaries and financial blunders. They are after all the people who own the corporation, and working Americans are many of these people.
Public sector workers -- nurses, corrections officers, library workers and sanitation workers - have a trillion reasons to care about what happens in Wall Street's boardrooms. The 1.6 million members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO (AFSCME) participate in public pension funds with combined assets worth more than $1.7 trillion that own approximately 4 percent of the stock market. The retirement security of workers depends on strong economic growth to maximize the value of these pension assets.
If there was ever a place where Main Street and Wall Street collide, this is it. As each day brings new stories of corporate greed run amok, Main Street workers and shareholders are standing up to Wall Street.
Workers and shareholders are seeking to hold the Wal-Mart board accountable for doing nothing while executives violated U.S. and Mexican laws against bribery. Workers and shareholders are calling on big banks to fix the systems that led to predatory lending, and that thwart a solution to the foreclosure crisis. Workers and shareholders are telling big oil companies to give shareholders a greater voice in determining the composition of the board, and insisting that boards include environmental expertise. Workers and shareholders are challenging health insurance companies to stop undermining health care reform, and asking members of the American Legislative Exchange Council to own up to their funding of the secretive organization. We support these workers and shareholders as they seek to reverse the corporate policies that damage our economy and threaten our workers' security.
Across the country, public sector workers -- our pay, our pensions, our jobs -- are under attack. Corporate-backed politicians say that public sector workers are to blame for the crumbling economy. In reality, the corporations who support it are the culprits.
The recent losses of JPMorgan Chase are a case in point. Wall Street banks drove our economy off a cliff, causing millions of Americans to lose their homes, their jobs and their retirement security. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has led the charge to block rules that would prevent another Great Recession. Losing $2 to $7 billion -- nobody knows for sure -- on a risky derivatives bet just shows that nothing has changed on Wall Street.
JPMorgan Chase spent $35.5 million on federal lobbying in the last six years. Some of that money was in action the day after they announced their multi-billion losses on the derivative bet made in London, as they leaned on U.S. regulators to loosen overseas banking regulations. In other words, they want to make it even easier to keep making disastrous international trades like the one unveiled the day before.
No matter how Romney tries to spin it, JPMorgan Chase isn't a person. Neither is Goldman Sachs. Nor Morgan Stanley. These corporations aren't people. People are people. People are feeling the disastrous impact of corporate greed. People are watching their retirement grow more and more insecure as Wall Street moguls place dicey bets. People are realizing that the profit-driven myopia on Wall Street is directly related to the free fall on Main Street.
And the people of Main Street are taking Wall Street to task for just that.
On the streets, in statehouses, in the halls of Congress, at the ballot box and in the boardroom, public sector workers are pulling together to check Wall Street, to balance it, to make sure it works for us -- the people who make America happen.
Let's be clear. We aren't out to tear down the walls of Wall Street. Our lives and our livelihoods depend on corporations, on capitalism. However, we won't stand for Wall Street greed, greed that flies in the face of what capitalism is all about: economic growth and freedom. And the battle of the boardroom will only be won when Wall Street greed is trumped by Main Street's needs.
Until that day, expect us on the front lines, reminding America that people are people.
Follow Gerald McEntee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AFSCME