BOSTON/Government Center - When the Boston City Council convenes its regular weekly meeting today, Councilor Chuck Turner (G/R - District 7) says he will seek approval for public hearings to assess the degree of responsibility of “financial institutions” and “large-scale corporations” for the current local and national fiscal crisis. Turner and concerned activists hope the hearings will be the first step in a process of figuring out how corporations can assist in improving the financial well-being of Boston’s neighborhoods.
Last week, housing activists, anti-poverty advocates, and labor organizers held a press conference at City Hall to endorse the proposed hearings on the fiscal crisis, its effect on Boston residents, and the culpability of major financial institutions.
Activists in attendance called on corporate leaders to “acknowledge their role” in causing the economic crisis and to take greater responsibility for ameliorating conditions by “investing in Boston and other cities where they do business.”
Darlene Lombos, Organizing Director for Community Labor United, told a packed Piemonte Room at the City Hall event that hearings on corporate responsibility “come at a crucial time in our nation’s history. It comes at a time when the gap between rich and poor is the widest it has ever been; with CEO salaries equaling 866 times as much as the average minimum wage worker.”
“It comes at a time when families are reeling from the effects of mass foreclosures and forced evictions, amidst rising unemployment and the increasing costs of food, energy and health care.”
Lombos also noted the presence of a racial disparity in the current bail-out of large financial institutions between what she called the “economic elite on Wall Street, predominantly white men” and “working class people of color who have been disproportionately targeted by predatory lenders, and are estimated to lose a staggering 213 billion dollars in wealth due to the sub-prime mortgage crisis.”
On Monday, MA Congressman Barney Frank, a major architect of the estimated $700 billion bail-out plan, defended the measure and told Open Media Boston’s Jason Pramas that congressional Democrats tried to pass an economic stimulus bill “…to put money into infrastructure and to help the states pay medical bills. Unfortunately, it was filibustered in the Senate…It was only 70 billion, not 700. And it got killed."
Ms. Lombos said Community Labor United will ask the City Council to support the coalition’s “Secure Jobs, Secure Communities” campaign by insisting that downtown Boston businesses and large commercial property owners “invest in their workers both at home and in the workplace.”
In a brochure given to reporters at the press conference last week, CLU says one of the “most disturbing results” of the shift from a manufacturing economy to one based on corporate management services in many cities including Boston, is the emergence of what the organization describes as an “hourglass economy, with large numbers of low wage jobs at the bottom of the spectrum and high wage jobs at the top, but few stable living wage jobs in the middle.”
The inability of middle class and low wage workers to make payments on their home loans – in many cases based on extremely expensive adjustable interest rate mortgages promoted heavily by lenders – has been a primary force in the downfall of the banking and credit industries which have been bundling, selling, and speculating on these mortgage loans for years.
Richard Rogers, Executive Secretary of the Greater Boston Labor Council and Chair of the CLU Board of Directors, said at last week’s press conference that union and community activists for decades have decried “corporate greed” and the “unequal distribution of wealth and power and now the chickens have come home to roost.”
“And you’re never going to fix this crisis without the underlying problem of the housing thing,” Rogers argued. “They need to help these people keep their homes, they need to find a way to work with the people, working class people that have been victimized by these corporate buccaneers, and we need more corporate responsibility in the city of Boston.” The bail-out plan, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, gives the U.S. Treasury Secretary the power to buy mortgages in default, but it’s unclear how long it will take before this strategy helps Boston residents. Local activists say home foreclosures and evictions this year will affect from 20 to 30 thousand people statewide this year.
Describing the recent eviction of a family living in Roslindale, Mary Wright of the organization City Life/Vida Urbana said “I’m still not over it, it was horrible…I have never experienced the things we experienced last Thursday; where the little kids were crying and the family, the owners were crying, and no matter how they cried people started putting them out. And we always say ‘they bail the banks out and throw the people out.’”
The number of Americans facing the prospect of losing their home is not trivial. According to the Center for the Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook University in New York, more than a million families face foreclosure during the second half of 2008. In a just published study by the Center, researchers found that close to 23 million households and 60 million people overall live in “financial distress.”
A staffer in Chuck Turner’s office said the Boston city councilor will push for a hearing date to be scheduled as soon as possible. According to its posted schedule, the City Council has seven regular meetings left before the end of the calendar year.
[UPDATE - Oct. 10, 2008 - Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner has arranged for a public hearing on corporate responsibility on Thursday, October 30, 2008; further details to follow.]
AUDIO FEATURE: highlights from Community Labor United press conference
Speakers in order:
Darlene Lombos, CLU
Richard Rogers, Greater Boston Labor Council
Mary Wright, City Life/Vida Urbana
Jacqueline Fortes, United Youth Workers of Boston
Grace Ross, MA Alliance Against Predatory Lending
Deborah Robinson, ACORN