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UAW activists force Bank of America branch to close

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On Thursday around 2 p.m., more than 1,200 UAW delegates and activists received marching orders from their International president and took to

They began to protest, surrounding King who was now standing on a chair with the row of bank tellers at their windows behind him. “In 2009, Bank of America, after making $4.4 billion, paid how much in taxes? Zero!” King added.
Photo by Rebecca Cook

the streets of Detroit with strains of John Lennon’s “Power to the People” in their heads.

Hundreds of UAW members gathered at Cobo Center in Detroit for three days for the UAW’s 2011 Special Convention on Collective Bargaining.

Now, it was time for direct action as a way to make a final statement for the event, a pronouncement that the time has come for justice for workers everywhere, both UAW members and working families across the country.

Before sending them out into the 31-degree spring day, King told delegates inside the convention hall what the action was about: corporate tax dodging, cutting our services and cutting our pay.

Organized into three groups and exiting different areas of Cobo Center, they marched through downtown on different routes and converged outside Bank of America in the heart of city’s financial district.

By the time the action ended about a half hour later, UAW President Bob King and about 100 union activists had flooded the first floor of the Guardian Building and forced Bank of America to temporarily shut down its operations for about 30 minutes.

The group of UAW members entered the building with King, took off their jackets and revealed bright red shirts they all were wearing. The red was for solidarity with workers in Wisconsin where the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers have been targeted and for solidarity with all workers who are under attack by federal, state and local government actions.

They began to protest, surrounding King who was now standing on a chair with the row of bank tellers at their windows behind him. The demonstrators held up signs, and King described why Bank of America was being singled out for this action, including not paying taxes on billions in profits in 2009, handing out the majority of the subprime loans that tanked the U.S. economy, and how Bank of America received bailout funds in federal tax dollars while refusing to renegotiate loans of homeowners under water, forcing them to onto the streets.

The demonstration today was part of a nationwide campaign of rallies against banks that have occurred over the past several months and were done in participation with US Uncut, an organization that encourages people to take action against the unfair cuts to public services by making corporate tax avoiders pay.
Photo by Rebecca Cook

On each point that King described about the bank, protesters yelled, “Shame on you!” Soon after, the bank closed its doors, and King and the rest of the protesters left the bank to join others demonstrating outside Bank of America’s door.

The UAW demonstrators outside were being led in chants by Lisa Fithian, coordinator of the group Wall Street Bank Fight Back Campaigns.

Earlier Thursday at the convention, the veteran direct action leader for progressive causes throughout the world described how the approach works and outlined some protest actions she has been involved with that have gotten the best results for grassroots groups over the years.

“While in there, we presented Bank of America with a tax bill they should be paying. This is part of the broader middle-class movement all over the United States,” said King, adding that banks haven’t done enough to help people after getting billions in federal help.

“In 2009, Bank of America, after making $4.4 billion, paid how much in taxes? Zero!” King added.

“No matter where you live … if companies and billionaires would pay their fair share of taxes we wouldn’t be facing cuts and our economy would be stronger…and there would be no cuts in education,” said King.

“This is our message to Republicans,” said King. “Instead of cutting the middle class, you should introduce bills to create good-paying jobs to rebuild our cities, our roads and our infrastructure to keep us competitive…”

The demonstration today was part of a nationwide campaign of rallies against banks that have occurred over the past several months and were done in participation with US Uncut, an organization that encourages people to take action against the unfair cuts to public services by making corporate tax avoiders pay. US Uncut demonstrations are planned across the country on March 26.

One of the scores of demonstrators was Gary Jordan, president of UAW Local 647 in Cincinnati. The local represents workers at GE Aircraft.

Organized into three groups and exiting different areas of Cobo Center, they marched through downtown on different routes and converged outside Bank of America in the heart of city’s financial district.
Photo by Rebecca Cook

“Today is important for retirees and children because we are setting the future,” he said. ”We need to wake up and let them know we want our democracy like anyone else.”

“It was awesome and enlightening,” said Eddie Henderson of UAW Local 31 in Kansas City, Kan. “It shows everybody how we feel about how corporate America is robbing the middle class. And it showed corporate America that we have the right to live a good life, just like they do, but by hard work and not on the backs of ordinary Americans.”

UAW Local 652’s Lori Gentz couldn’t agree more. Gentz works at the General Motors’ Grand River facility in Lansing, Mich.

“What Bank of America is doing makes me mad. They don’t deserve that money – nobody does. I’m standing up,” she said. “We’re all going to stand up. This is it. This is the beginning. We have to fight.”

“This is awesome. It raises the visibility of the issues that are going on,” said Gino Messina, a member of UAW Local 897, which represents workers at Ford Motor Co.’s Buffalo Stamping facility in western New York.

“The energy we built during the three days of the special convention this week is important to take back to our local unions. The action in the street is very uplifting. It will be a good launch pad for the actions we’ll do in our communities on the April 4 day of action for the state attacks on collective bargaining,” said Mark Gevaart, a member of UAW Local 2209 at GM’s Truck Assembly plant in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Gevaart and all UAW members should look forward to more days of action like today’s against Bank of America.

As long as corporate greed and multi-billion dollar corporate tax scofflaws exist alongside unfair burdens on working families, King says direct action and activism for working people everywhere will follow them.

“We will expose the outrageous behavior of corporations,” said King.

Joan Silvi

Gwynne Cobb, Sandra Davis, Jennifer John and Vince Piscopo contributed to this story.