Occupy World: Blue Eagles Protest vs. Profiteering Bankers*
By Pratap Chaterjee
Wearing blue eagle masks and garlands of money, protestors gathered outside the Barclays bank shareholder meeting in London, while a giant, cigar-smoking inflatable rat accompanied activists at the Wells Fargo annual meeting in San Francisco. Meanwhile shareholders in Dallas voted overwhelmingly against a multi-million dollars pay package for Citibank’s CEO while almost a third did the same at the Credit Suisse meeting in Zurich.
Annual general meeting season is in full swing and hundreds of people are showing up to protest excessive pay at banks around the world. The numbers have swollen from years past with the vigor injected from the long summer of Occupy protests around the world in 2011 that protested the failure of government to tackle the economic crisis and reign in private capital.
In London, activists with the World Development Movement and Robin Hood Tax, dressed up with blue eagle masks (mimicking the company’s logo) gathered outside the Royal Festival Hall. Some 800 shareholders attended the meeting where they heckled Bob Diamond, the CEO who was paid just shy of $28 million last year. One woman described the bank as “”ruthless, heartless, cruel” while another investor yelled: “You are all part of the same club.” Almost 27 percent voted against the company’s proposed pay package.
In Zurrich some 1,750 shareholders attended the Credit Suisse annual meeting on Thursday where almost a third of the votes recorded rejected individual pay packages as high as $9.35 million (for Robert Shafir who heads up the asset management team) “You should be ashamed of yourselves for taking so much money away from us,” said Rudolf Weber, a shareholder, who spoke up during the meeting. “We are the owners of this bank, and you are our employees. We should be the ones who decide what you earn.”
On Tuesday Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citibank, faced a revolt against his proposed salary of $15 million. Some 55 percent of shareholders voted against – the first time in history that a pay proposal at a major U.S. bank has been voted down since the law was amended to allow such voted under the Dodd-Frank act of 2010. Two days later, Stanley Moskal, a Citi shareholder, sued Pandit and the Citibank board for breaching their fiduciary duties stating that the vote had “cast doubt on the board’s decision-making process, as well as the accuracy and truthfulness of its public statements.”
The same Tuesday, thousands of activists gathered in San Francisco outside the Wells Fargo annual meeting at the Merchants Exchange Building to protest the bank which is the second-largest U.S. bank as measured by deposits. The crowd was joined by a fake stagecoach (the bank’s logo that reflects its Gold Rush history) labeled “Hell’s Cargo” and a giant cigar-smoking inflatable rat. A small group linked arms to prevent shareholders from attending the meeting while others went inside to protest. A total of 24 protestors – 14 inside the meeting and ten outside – were arrested.
“Wells Fargo is one of the largest and most corrupt Wall Street banks and has foreclosed on hundreds of thousands of homes,” Charles Davidson of Move On East Bay told Reuters. “I think it’s really important that we stand up to this or the economic crisis will continue.”
However Wells Fargo shareholders failed to rally against CEO John Stumpf’s salary where over 90 percent voted for his $19.8 million pay package.