Activist shareholders made a statement in Detroit Wednesday morning with thousands rallying outside of the General Electric shareholder’s meeting and dozens inside. GE has tried to whitewash their reputation with ads conveying worker pride and announcing hirings ahead of their annual meeting this week, but activists countered with a message for the tax dodger.
Business as usual is no longer acceptable. Just seconds into the start of the shareholder’s meeting, pastors, joined with other activists, demanded the company pay its fair share of taxes. Over the last ten years, GE paid just 2.3 percent in federal taxes. GE’s CFO Keith Sherin responded afterwards, “We absolutely are compliant with every law around the world in how we pay our taxes.”
But as Dave Johnson noted:
This is where the problem is. GE is compliant with tax laws – but they spend tremendous amounts on lobbying to influence these tax laws.
During the three year period, 2008-2010, GE spent more than $84 million in lobbyists to write legislation that benefits the Fortune 100 company.
Organizations from Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Boston and Chicago comprised the majority of activists coming from out of town and joined Good Jobs Now Detroit and local occupiers. Protesters chanted, “Hey GE, pay your fair share” and “tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”
The police presence grew as protesters gathered outside, resulting in the police chaining and padlocking the doors as though the building might come under attack. But the nonviolent protesters’ message was about doing the right thing for the country — people before profits.
“They continue to ignore us and refuse to hear our cries,” said Kelly Albrecht, a mother of three from Wisconsin. Her family struggles to make ends meet after she lost her job. She worries that the next shoe might drop and force her out of her home. Albrecht entered the shareholders’ meeting to address these issues but security escorted her out along with the pastors. She did not find their reaction very surprising.
GE counters that they paid more than $2 billion in taxes last year. A true statement, but the tax bill was more of an anomaly for the company. The company is not alone as big banks and big telecom companies have spent millions on lobbying efforts and find themselves paying less and less in taxes while laying off workers.
“Basically (we are) citizens who are mistreated by corporations, by which I mean corporations moving jobs overseas, not paying taxes … just so they can get richer.” She said such practices were partly to blame for painful cuts in programs from schools to health care.
Time will tell if these types of protest will result in policy changes. What we can conclude that people are angry and will not cease just yet.