Pissed off shareholders, homeowners, and taxpayers converge on Wells Fargo meeting

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2,000 protesters showed up to the April 24 Wells Fargo shareholder meeting
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY YAEL CHANOFF

Wells Fargo managed to hold its shareholder meeting April 24, but not without difficulty. A protest against the bank’s ongoing part in the foreclosure crisis, investments in the private prison industry, and record of tax dodging brought some 2,000 people to the West Coast Wells Fargo headquarters at 465 California St. for the meeting.

A broad coalition, including more than 180 Wells Fargo shareholders, as well as organized labor, students, immigrant rights advocates, and Occupy protesters, swarmed the building. Many entered the building, and others blocked its entrances and set up a stage on California, turning the block between Montgomery and Sansome into a combination alternative “stakeholders meeting” and block party.

Streets surrounding the headquarters were closed for more than four hours, as both protesters and some 200 police in riot gear stood their ground; there were 24 arrests, mostly for trespassing.

Participants hailed from across the country, from students from the University of Minnesota to steel workers from Redding, Penn. Demonstrators were explicitly and enthusiastically “non-violent.” One local organizer from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) announced, “This is a non-violent direct action,” to an eruption of cheers from the crowd, at a rally preceding the march.

Police say organizers stuck to their tactical intentions. “I think it was a successful event,” said Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a spokesperson for the SFPD. “They have followed through with their stated objective: to have a peaceful protest.”

The organizers were somewhat less successful in a stated objective to get a large number of discontent Wells Fargo shareholders into the meeting to ask tough questions. More than 180 attended a training to prepare for the meeting on the night of April 23, but less than 30 made it inside.

However, the meeting was cut short, and organizers claim that in barring a number of shareholders, Wells Fargo acted illegally and the result of votes from meeting may be invalid.

Many shareholders were particularly incensed about public subsidies that the company took advantage of in 2008. In an amendment to the tax code that lasted only three months before Congress revoked it, the IRS gave tax breaks to healthy banks that acquired banks that were faring more poorly; Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia during the three month window. As a result, the company received $17.96 billion in tax breaks between 2008 and 2012, significantly more than the cost of the Wachovia deal.

Protesters hoped to disrupt the meeting to demand that the bank pay more taxes. Wells Fargo announced record profits this year, as well as a $19.8 million pay package for CEO John Stumpf. Stumpf has earned $60 million in the past three years.

“If they were paying their taxes, we wouldn’t have to do this” said Al Haggett, a retired San 911 worker who trained dispatchers and police.

Ron Colbert, another shareholder and a worker for Sacramento's school district, also attempted to enter the meeting. “My sisters and brothers are suffering from foreclosure and they are pocketing our money instead of paying their taxes,” said Colbert.

“Tuition keeps going up every year. I have loans like you wouldn’t believe: $15,000, and it’s just my first year. But I pay my taxes, so why can’t they?” said Andrew Contstas, a psychology major at the University of Minnesota who traveled to San Francisco for the protest.

Determined to shut down the meeting, many groups of protesters entered the building at different times.

Around 10:30 am, about 75 were able to get in and sit down in the lobby, refusing to leave. “They said if we dispersed, they would let the shareholders in,” said SEIU Local 1021 organizer Gabriel Haaland, referring to the shareholders who came to protest and air their grievances. “They still didn’t. But they let shareholders in from either side.”

Many non-protester shareholders were able to enter through back entrances, escorted by police.

Workers from several unions who are currently locked in labor disputes, including janitors with SEIU Local 87 and AT&T technicians with local Communication Workers of America chapters, were also present at the protest. A stage set up in front of Wells Fargo turned California into an arena in which worker, student, homeowners, and immigrants told their stories.

Chris Drioane of CWA Local 9410 said that he is fed up after he worked 80-90 hours per week with no days off though the 2011 holiday season. “I worked from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day with no days off,” said Drioane.

The SFPD made 20 arrests, six for “chaining themselves to an object” and 14 for “some form of trespassing” after Wells Fargo asked them to make the arrests. Four were arrested by the Sheriff’s Department for interfering with an officer.

Ruth Schultz, a shareholder who was arrested inside the meeting, said that those who entered were able to speak. Several stood up and spoke individually before they were escorted out; afterward, the remaining protester-shareholders mic-checked the meeting and expressed their desire that Wells Fargo cease investment in private prisons, give principal reduction to all underwater homeowners, and pay “their fair share” of taxes. Police handcuffed them, and they were cited and released after spending 30 minutes in a room inside the Wells Fargo headquarters.

Schultz says the meeting lasted only 15 minutes after the group was detained, and was “ceremonial at best...They went on about their profits this year, how they’re sitting on the most capital they’ve ever had before.”

She says she was particularly frustrated from one statement made by CEO John Stumpf. “He said, ‘we’re proud of our mortgage business. In fact, I love our mortgage business.’”

A press releases from organizers explained that the protest was part of “99% Power, a national effort to mobilize well over 10,000 people, from all walks of life and representing the diversity of the 99%, to engage in nonviolent direct action at more than three dozen corporate shareholder meetings across the country.”

The national group plans to create similar chaos at a Bank of America shareholder meeting in Charlotte, NC May 6.

Comments

Sigh. The meme of "the rich/banksters should pay taxes" is one of the Democrat Party cooptive memes which explains why labor and the nonprofits were parroting it.

The Occupy position is that the regulatory framework is corrupt in that it allows people and banks to earn the kinds of income that would be subject to such taxes.

Occupy wants the system unrigged so that such income levels, unsustainable unless backstopped by public subsidy, are not attainable and so that income disparities drop.

The Democrats and their nonprofit and labor allies want minimal reforms that are designed to short-circuit Occupy's more ambitious positions.

The real Occupy SF folks were out in force, it was great to see them again. They were the ones who were not wearing special colored T-Shirt uniforms and were not sitting around looking bored, like they had to be there, and who did not reiterate the leftist cavalcade of victimhood grievances that are only tangentially related to OWS.

Posted by guest on Apr. 25, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

Sigh,

"The Democrats and their nonprofit and labor allies want minimal reforms that are designed to short-circuit Occupy's more ambitious positions."

Agreed!!!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 25, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

The Guardian endorsements are the same old same old. We get the same career politicians over and over and over. The Guardian has no vision or creativity in its endorsements. Just another rubber stamp of the democratic party. How can we have participatory democracy when the same career politicians hog public offices and get endorsed by the Guardian? Tom Tomorrow should do a cartoon on the Guardian showing how tired and non-progressive it appears to be with this endorsements. Yes, I 'm tired of the democrats.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 25, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

I totally agree with your lack of enthusiasm for the Democrats. After all, most are to the right of the Republicans of only 20 years ago. I include the Pres in this group. Not so many years ago, Obama could have run and won on the GOP ticket. The Dems can appear to be "liberal," but only when compared to the nasty, intolerant whacko right wing that has become todays GOP. Of the few in Congress who weren't corrupt before, most have been wooed by the avalanche of money that has decimated our democracy. Of course the ones that are "true believers" are the most dangerous.

Along with a few advocacy/activist groups, Occupy is really the only hope I can see. Made more difficult by the militarization of local police, the NDAA, the PATRIOT Act, and the right-wing echo chamber. It's a daunting task but if we want to live in/leave a world worth living in, we cannot fail. Good luck and godspeed to us all.

Posted by David from Our World Report on Apr. 26, 2012 @ 8:53 am

It's sad to see comments like the ones above dominate the conversation about this movement. I'm not a registered dem, i'm a union member, and i've regularly come out to occupy protests. I was at the24th action and as much as i saw occupy folks i saw members of unions and.activist groups along side them. It's disheartening to read.that there are people out there that are making declarations that make this movement exclusive, creating greater divisions between "campers" and organizations. The last thing.we need to be.is divided. People need.to feel like they can be apart of this to grow this movement and we have to let them be a.apart of in what way they can be. If the only people that you thought were.legitimately apart of the movement were you and the people who camped, we willnot win. I hope the conversation changes because i want all of us to be apart of this because we are ALL affected.

Posted by sf cynic on Apr. 26, 2012 @ 11:36 am

Here's how it goes, cynic, first, it is not just campers, but folks who worked with the occupation who are concerned about labor and nonprofits in OSF.

Second, labor has had, what, 80 years now to make its case, but has been pushed back further and further over time. Labor has also been successfully marginalized amongst Americans. That tells me that labor needs to be doing less of what has not worked and more of what has, moreover, labor needs to take care to acknowledge its baggage and not load Occupy with that baggage.

OWS/OSF succeeded to the extent that it has precisely because it was NOT labor and it was NOT the nonprofits, it was something new. Labor has been there FOR Occupy but until this year has not tried to BECOME Occupy.

If Occupy becomes known for being about everything BUT the banksters and warmongers, about every picayune labor struggle or every marginalized community, poor people, immigrants and people of color, then Occupy will fail.

Labor and the nonprofits have tried to move the progressive agenda with that vocabulary and in case you've missed it, they've lost and lost big.

We cannot grow a movement using tactics that have proven their success at shrinking movements.

Posted by guest on Apr. 26, 2012 @ 11:51 am

Wow, what a douchey, ignorant comment to make. What exactly has Occupy accomplished so far? I mean I'm all for the fledgling movement experimenting and trying to develop new tactics, but so far it's just that, a fledgling movement that's still experimenting. Labor made enormous real gains with its tactics in the last 80 years, and to the extent it's no longer as effective as it once was, this is largely due to the relocation of manufacturing and service jobs overseas, eroding the power base of labor. You think you can do better, go for it! But so far, you've shown nothing. Labor may be the heavyweight former champion on the wane, but you're an upstart who's never won a bout.

Posted by Joshua on Apr. 27, 2012 @ 6:56 am

The people who made gains for labor are long dead, their gains all accomplished before I was born and I'm getting old.

Those running labor these days coasted in on the hard work of those who are now long gone.

Organized workers are down to 13% of the population nationwide, more than half of them in the public sector. In San Francisco, a union town, organized workers are like 17% of the population.

Labor's decline is measured in the declining working conditions of us all, longer hours for flat wages with decreasing benefits and no job or retirement security.

How's that EFCA working out for you? What, you say labor has endorsed Obama for reelection? Do you really like politics as SM game?

Have you ever mentioned the idea of unionizing in the tech sector sweatshops? Not the ones in India, but the ones here that undercut American working techies with H1-B visas for those who flee India?

Labor's brand is damaged, probably beyond repair. Occupy is a fresh new start that is creative and interesting and has captured imaginations. I didn't know that labor had an imagination to be captured anymore, but apparently it does when confronted with a potential challenger to its franchise.

My record of accomplishment with my volunteer time stands for itself. Let's just say that recent pro-labor wins, minimum wage and sick time, did not originate within the mainline unions, rather from upstarts.

The fact is that labor is an adjunct of the Democrat Party and in the same way that the Democrats have sold out the 99% in favor of the 1%, labor will easily sell out the 86% in favor of deals the 13% cut with the 1%

This is why labor is hitching its wagon to Occupy, so that a minor labor struggle at the Golden Gate Bridge can blame Occupy for alienating the 99% commuters over a working condition struggle for benefits that most of us will never see.

Why will we never see them? Because labor who was getting paid to pay attention to those matters was coasting for our lifetimes and now expects to be given a pass for wins of three generations ago.

Posted by guest on Apr. 27, 2012 @ 11:01 am

What's douchey and ignorant here is pretending that there is no problem and attacking people who point out the fact that there is a problem.

Posted by guest on Apr. 27, 2012 @ 11:42 am

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