Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street’

Did I Hear the Words "Full Employment"?

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

jonathan-tasiniAmong the many reasons the country would be better off if Bernie Sanders was president is that the man just refuses to deal in silliness. He wants the country to have a serious debate — and whether the next head of the Federal Reserve Board is a man or a woman, or the current president is more “comfortable” with one person or another running the Fed, is entirely irrelevant to Sanders. And, so, Sanders goes really wild — he invokes the two words that most people will not speak in this debate even though those two words are part of the Federal Reserve Board’s mission:  FULL EMPLOYMENT.

Last week, I tried to suggest that the critical questions are not being asked in the discussion about who should run the Fed. Sanders can actually communicate with the guy in the White House, as he does in this letter. The entire letter is worth reading but this is the paragraph that almost made me cry (I’m desperate here, politically speaking):

The top priority of the Federal Reserve Board must be to fulfill its full employment mandate. When Wall Street was on the verge of collapse, the Federal Reserve acted boldly, aggressively, and with a fierce sense of urgency to save the financial system. We need a new Fed chair who will act with the same sense of urgency to combat the unemployment crisis in America today that has left 22 million Americans without a full time job. [the underline and bold is in the original]

There is a lot to learn from this short letter.

First, how many people know, as Sanders points out, that it is the Fed’s responsibility to bring about full employment?

Wait a second: who even talks about full employment anymore? Not the Congress (except for a handful of people…or maybe it’s only Sanders). Not the president. Not either of the two parties.

It’s seen as, well, quaint. We’ve now adjusted our attitude, thanks to the constant chatter of the transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”), so that we now think of under 7 percent unemployment as somehow “okay” and 6 percent unemployment as if everything is going great guns…with the millions of people out of work that those numbers represent.

Obscene.

But, reaching full employment is the Fed’s job. And Sanders, wacky guy that he is, actually wants someone in the position who understands that. Uh, good luck with that, Bernie.

Correctly, Sanders targets the Big Three. No, not the auto companies. The Big Three who were key architects in the financial crisis: Robert Rubin, Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers. Those guys had a mission: destroy regulation, let Wall Street run wild and make themselves and/or their friends rich along the way.  To the president, who is out now talking about the divide between rich and poor, Bernie says: keep those turds away from the Fed (yes, he uses far more Senatorial language)

I got to have one quibble with Sanders, otherwise it will seem like hero worship (close). And that’s that he doesn’t call out in his letter the puppet master who laid the groundwork for this mess in the 1990s: Bill Clinton. Because it was the Big Dog himself who led the charge of the Big Three against Glass Steagall — which was the law that did not allow investment banking and commercial banking to mix.

But, if the world was right, and we had a serious political debate, Sanders’ letter would be driving policy the decision about who will be looking out for the interests of the people.

This article originally posted on Working Life on July 30, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor and the economy. On June 11, 2009, he announced that he would challenge New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in the Democratic primary for the 2010 U.S. Senate special election in New York. However, Tasini later decided to run instead for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010.

It’s Time To Mobilize Workers’ Capital

Friday, January 11th, 2013

jonathan-tasiniHere’s a riddle: what large entity has the theoretical access to deploy a few trillion dollars, quickly, if given the chance? If you answered the Chinese or US governments, thank you for playing and please try again another time. The answer: labor unions.

Piling up around the world is the largest and most accessible source of cheap capital you can imagine. No wasteful Wall Street brokerage fees. No fancy credit-default swaps. Just good, hard cash.

It is money accumulated in pension funds—workers deferred wages. Pension funds now own 73 per cent of stock issued by companies in the Fortune 1000.

Think about it: overnight, all those bridges, roads, schools, ports, climate-change energy projects—all of which are gasping for finance because governments are foolishly slashing budgets—could be underwritten by cheap capital.

Just increasing pension fund investments in green technologies and low-carbon projects from the current two to three per cent of portfolios to five per cent would pour US$300 billion over the next three years into such critical projects.

And that capital would come with a price tag, though not one motivated by personal greed: projects funded by pensions would need to be unionized and pay a living wage.

The idea to mobilize workers’ capital is hardly new. It has been actively talked about for at least two decades. But, with the exception of a few projects and a slew of corporate governance campaigns (primarily shareholder resolutions that rarely win but can bring pressure on issues such as out-of-control executive compensation), the power of the pension fund money has barely been used.

So, what’s holding us up?

To begin, the money isn’t simply at the sole beckon call of unions. Pension fund decisions are typically jointly reached by a board split equally between management and workers.

But, the legal “partnership” is a myth: the truth is that management usually holds the upper hand in dictating investment direction. While management board members are very comfortable with balance sheets, the typical union pension fund representative is woefully untrained, chosen often because of his or her long service and loyalty to the union.

And the pension fund investment options are almost always laid out, and controlled, by professional financial consultants who could not give a damn about anything but the rate of return—and their compensation.

Moreover, most of the legal regimes require that the assets be invested for the sole purpose of enhancing and protecting the benefits of retirees. That language has always been construed as a license to focus on a very conservative and unimaginative investment strategy—a strategy that union trustees have not challenged.

Looking inward, an honest analysis would admit that most unions have not been very interested in the idea of capital power. As long as the pension fund reported fair returns and retirees were happy, the average union leader considered that performance adequate.

But, two developments converged. The global financial crisis, triggered by the immoral (and, in my view, criminal) behaviour of virtually every international Wall Street-financial firm, wiped out trillions of dollars in wealth, and pension funds took massive hits. That made labor people pay attention.

And, coupled with the Global Financial Crisis, a number of forward-looking labor leaders, faced with declining numbers and an organizing environment that has grown increasingly hostile, began spending more time thinking about new strategies to put into play.

That all led to a renewed focus on workers capital.

There is some positive progress to report.

Sharan Burrow, the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, has made it her mission to jump-start this area.

She recently asked the right questions:

At what point did we allow our funds to become captive of the dominant market frame without question? Have we lost a perspective of the original labour rationale for bargaining for deferred wages into retirement income and/or advocating for the legislative/regulatory guarantees for dignified retirement incomes?

More recently, the Teachers Retirement System of the City of New York pledged $1 billion to infrastructure, in advancing a $10 billion goal for a new asset class of infrastructure that will help spur Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts and upgrade the city’s infrastructure. The initiative came directly out of the AFL-CIO’s commitment at the inaugural Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in 2011.

And on the West Coast of the US, a multi-state exchange between California, Oregon and Washington will jointly look for projects worth plowing money into.

All of this is a proverbial drop in the ocean, a speck of sand on the beach of capital pools waiting to be used. Global union federations and national unions need to create a planet-wide network of pension fund trustees who can be trained and act in unison when investment opportunities arise. Those trustees need to map joint campaigns.

Would it not be a delicious turn of events to basically fire the Wall Street financiers—the circle of people who destroyed the economic wellbeing of tens of millions of people—and, instead, watch bridges go up that not only buck up a city’s economic heartbeat but also provide the bulwark for a decent standard of living.

This post was originally posted on December 28, 2012 at WorkingLife. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor and the economy. On June 11, 2009, he announced that he would challenge New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in the Democratic primary for the 2010 U.S. Senate special election in New York.[1] However, Tasini later decided to run instead for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010.

Gender Pay Gap Is Largest On Wall Street

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

While it’s well-known by now that women consistently earn less than men even though they often attain better education — 77.4 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2010 — Bloomberg News’ Frank Bass reports a new development: this gap is widest on Wall Street.

Parsing census data, Bass found that the six jobs with the largest gender gap in 2010 were insurance agents, managers, financial clerks, securities sales agents, personal financial advisers, other financial specialists — all in “the Wall Street-heavy financial sector”:

The financial sector pays women in the six major jobs with the biggest salary gap from 55 to 62 cents for every $1 made by men, according to the census. Female bank tellers, with a median salary of $23,695, came closest to narrowing the gap in the industry, pulling down 96 cents for every $1 earned.

One reason female professionals make less money in the financial sector is that they tend to wind up in lower-paying positions such as in public finance rather than on trading desks, said Louise Marie Roth, a University of Arizona sociologist and author of “Selling Women Short: Gender and Money on Wall Street.”

Women often simply don’t know how much they’re being underpaid because a large percentage of Wall Street salaries are based on bonuses that are kept secret, she said.

The gap is hardly confined to the financial sector — wide disparities exist in many other high-education sectors, such as among doctors and lawyers — but it’s notable that all six of the job categories with the highest discrepancy are in a single sector.

Bass notes that “women who want to earn more on Wall Street than their male colleagues have one reliable option. They can set up a shoe-shine,” where women make $1.02 for every dollar men make.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on March 19, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alex Seitz-Wald is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Alex grew up in California and holds a B.A. in international relations from Brown University. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Alex interned at the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and at the National Journal’s Hotline, where he covered key senate and gubernatorial races. Alex also co-founded and edited the Olive & Arrow, a blog on foreign affairs for and by young progressives. At Brown, he contributed to several publications and served on student government.

On Labor Day, Work to Save the Middle Class

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Leo GerardThis Labor Day feels gloomy. It’s a celebration of work when there is not enough of it, a day off when too many desperately seek a day on.

America has commemorated two Labor Days since this brutal recession began near the end of George Bush’s presidency in December of 2007. Now the relentless high unemployment, the ever-rising foreclosures, the unremitting wage and benefit take-backs have replaced American optimism and enthusiasm with fear and anger.

Happy Labor Day.

On this holiday, we can rant with Glenn Beck, kick the dog and hate the neighbor lucky enough to retain his job. Or we can do something different. We can join with our neighbors, employed and unemployed, our foreclosed-on children, our elderly parents fearing cuts in their Social Security lifeline and our fellow workers worrying that the furlough ax will strike them next. Together we can organize and mobilize and create a grassroots groundswell that gives government no choice but to respond to our needs, the needs of working people.

We can do what workers did during the Great Depression to provoke change, to create programs like Social Security and achieve recognition of rights like collective bargaining. These changes were sought by groups to benefit groups. In a civil society, people care for one another. And America is such a society – one where people routinely donate blood to aid anonymous strangers, children set up lemonade stands to contribute to Katrina victims and working families find a few bucks for United Way.

The self-righteous Right is all about individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. That proposition – the do-it-all- by-yourself-winner-takes-all philosophy – clearly failed because so many Americans are jobless, homeless and too penniless to afford boots.

Over the past decade, the winner who took all was Wall Street. The banksters gambled on derivatives and other risky financial tomfoolery and won big time. Until they lost. And crashed the economy. After the American taxpayer bailed them out, those wealthy traders returned to making huge profits and bonuses based on perilous schemes.

Still, they believe they haven’t taken enough from working Americans. They’re lobbying to end aid for those who remain unemployed in a recession caused by Wall Street recklessness. And they’re demanding extension of their Bush-given tax breaks. This is the nation’s upper 1 percent, people who earn a million or more each year, the 1 percent that took home 56 percent of all income growth between 1989 and 2007, the year the recession began.

Since 2007, 8.2 million workers have lost jobs. Millions more are underemployed, laboring part-time when they need full-time jobs, or barely squeaking by on slashed wages and benefits. Since the recession began, the unemployment rate nearly doubled, from 5 percent to 9.6 percent, and that does not include those so discouraged that they’ve given up the search for jobs, a decision that is, frankly, understandable when there are only enough openings to re-employ 20 percent of the jobless. Five unemployed workers compete for each job created in this sluggish economy.

And American workers weren’t prepared for this downturn, having already suffered losses in the years before it began. The median income, adjusted for inflation, of working-age households declined by more than $2,000 in the seven years before the recession started.

At the same time, practices like off-shoring jobs and signing regressive international trade deals contributed to the loss of middle class, blue collar jobs. A new report, “The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market,” by the Center for American Progress and The Hamilton Project, says:

“The decline in middle-skill jobs has been detrimental to the earnings and labor force participation rates of workers without a four-year college education, and differentially so for males, who are increasingly concentrated in low-paying service occupations.”

The recession compounded that, the report says:

“Employment losses during the recession have been far more severe in middle-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs than in either high-skill, white-collar jobs or low-skill service occupations.”

What that means is high roller banksters are living large; lawn care workers and waitresses subsist on minimum wage, and working class machinists and steelworkers are disappearing altogether.

The researchers found the U.S. economy is increasingly polarized into high-skill, high-wage jobs and low-skill, low wage jobs. America is losing the middle jobs and with them its great middle class.

No wonder the rising anger in middle America.

But fury doesn’t solve the problem. This Labor Day, we must organize to save ourselves and our neighbors. We must stop America from descending into plutocracy. We must demand support for American manufacturing and middle class jobs. That means terminating tax breaks for corporate outsourcers, ending trade practices that violate agreements and international law and punishing predator countries for currency manipulation that subverts fair trade by artificially lowering the price of products shipped into the U.S. while artificially raising the price of American exports.

We must demand support for American industry, particularly manufacturers of renewable energy sources like solar cells and wind turbines that create good working class jobs, increase America’s energy independence and reduce climate change.

We must insist on policies that support the middle class, including preserving Social Security and Medicare, extending unemployment insurance while joblessness remains high, and enforcing the health care reform law so that every American worker and family can afford and is covered by insurance.

On this Labor Day, we should all have a picnic, invite neighbors, friends and family, and over hot dogs and potato salad, organize to save the American middle class.

Mobilize to end the gloom and restore American optimism.

***

For help: the Union of the Unemployed, the AFL-CIO, USW, Working America. Join the One Nation March for jobs Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.

Target Wall Street Greed, Not Public Employees

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Too often when economic times get tough, scapegoats are found in the wrong places. Wall Street greed and double-dealing sparked much of the nation’s recent near-financial collapse, yet many in the chattering classes instead are attacking public employees for this rolling recession.

Economist Dean Baker puts the situation in perspective:

Fifteen million people are not out of work because of generous public employee pensions. Nor is this the reason that millions of homeowners are underwater in their mortgages and facing the loss of their home. In fact, if we cut all public employee pensions in half tomorrow, it would not create a single job or save anyone’s house. The reason that millions of people are suffering is a combination of Wall Street greed and incredible economic mismanagement.

Even as a consensus is emerging among economists that the United States should put job growth ahead of deficit cuts, a new study focused on New England finds that the region no longer can afford to spend scarce resources on tax credits and other business giveaways. Instead, it needs to channel economic development efforts to rebuilding neglected infrastructure and improving education for people at all levels. “Prioritizing Approaches to Economic Development in New England” provides

ample evidence that infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, energy transmission systems, drinking water, and the like) and education are effective approaches for creating jobs and generating economic growth.

The study, by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, finds the New England states have too long viewed funding for public services and economic development as competing interests—and that’s a false dichotomy. Sounds like the study can apply to the rest of the country as well.

Demonizing the public sector harms the U.S. middle class, writes Drum Major Institute for Public Policy (DMI) Research Director Amy Traub, who reminds us how fundamental the jobs they do are to our everyday lives:

It’s easy to lose sight of the other ways that a strong public sector supports our economy. Middle-class Americans and the businesses they work for rely on good schools, clean and safe streets, and high quality public services and infrastructure. In so doing, they depend on the dedicated teachers, police, firefighters, librarians, sanitation workers, parks employees, and support staff that keep states and cities running.

States and cities face very real fiscal challenges, but the cause is falling tax revenue due to the deepest recession in decades—not excessive spending or lavish compensation for public workers.

Further, Traub has a recommendation for Congress, some Democrats included:

Trashing our middle class in an effort to cut costs is short sighted. Downgrading the middle-class pay and benefits of public workers only speeds their erosion in the private sector, undermining everyone who works for a living….Rather than attacking public pensions that afford retirees a middle-class standard of living, [lawmakers] should be thinking about how to increase retirement security for millions of private-sector employees with meager savings.

As Progressive States Network points out, extremist anti-worker organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council have been trying to gut public employee pensions for years—and they are using the recession as a public relations platform.

There is no crisis in most state retirement systems, even according to the numbers of the researchers demanding state leaders take unneeded action to cut the incomes of retirees.  And despite the hype from a few carefully selected anecdotes of retirees gaming pension systems, the reality is that the overwhelming number of public employees receive pretty bare-bones benefits, in some cases not enough even to keep them out of poverty.

Corporate backed anti-worker groups are the winners when the public taps into public-employee blame game. Wall Street is another big winner. The CEOs of Big Banks and the financial industry are happy to see the finger pointed at public employees. It means America’s workers are fighting each other and not united in targeting the real culprit of our economic misfortunes.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW Blog.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

Wall Street Bonuses For Haiti

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

The president is going to announce today a tax on the big banks and financial institutions:

The tax on banks, insurance companies and brokerages with more than $50 billion in assets would start after June 30 and seek to collect $90 billion over 10 years, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters late Wednesday.

The Administration is calling the tax a “financial crisis responsibility fee”. I like that handle. But, there are two problems. First, the bankers themselves still don’t get it:

“Using tax policy to punish people is a bad idea,” J.P. Morgan Chase Chief Executive James Dimon told reporters after a hearing in Washington. Mr. Dimon said it would be unfair for banks to be left shouldering the cost of the auto bailout.

This isn’t punishment, Mr. Dimon. This is about responsibility. To your country. To the people whose hard-earned money you used to save your institution.

Second, frankly, the projected $90 billion to be collected over ten years is a pittance–and that cost is being shouldered by the shareholders of the banks and financial institutions and I’m guessing its customers who will end up paying for the tax in higher fees that the institutions slip into their “cost of doing business”.

The tax avoids any personal responsibility on the part of the individuals who created the economic crisis.

Here is another idea: demand that the Wall Street bonuses go to pay for the recovery efforts in Haiti, and to make taxpayers here whole. After all, the very economic system that Dimon and his peers created over the past several decades is the system that impoverished countries around the world, leaving them with a weak infrastructure to be able to deal with natural disasters. Putting the Wall Street bonuses towards Hait relief will perhaps make Dimon and his peers feel virtuous and not punished–but I would not count on it.

*This post originally appeared in Working Life on January 14, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author Jonathan Tasini: is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.

Unions, Progressives To Launch Wall St. Reform Drives This Week

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Unions and progressive coalitions are seeking to add grass-roots organizing power to President Obama’s calls for financial reform, with stepped up activism from the AFL-CIO, Jobs for Justice and the progressive Americans for Financial Reform coalition all starting this week.

Following last week’s AFL-CIO convention that aimed to jump-start reform drives and the union movement, new president Richard Trumka and other leaders will be taking their case for economic reform to Wall Street and the  public. As the AFL-CIO Now blog reported:

The team’s tour continues Sunday and Monday in Atlanta, including a rally outside Wachovia, where Trumka will condemn its predatory financial practices, such as foreclosures. On Monday night and Tuesday, the team travels to New York City where Trumka will issue a strong warning to Wall Street at a press conference outside the New York Stock Exchange.

The goal: create a fairer economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.

On Thursday, the Jobs for Justice Coalition plans an action—one of many protests scheduled for over 20 cities over the next week—outside a meeting of the pro-banking Financial Services Roundtable in Washington, D.C., a key lobbying coalition opposed to the Administration’s proposed consumer financial protection agency, as well as other reforms.

As a Jobs for Justice press release proclaimed:

Thousands expected to participate in over a dozen cities to mark the one-year anniversary of the bank bailouts.

Nearly a year after Congress authorized hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out the financial industry, major banks continue to pay outrageous salaries and bonuses, drive layoffs and foreclosures, and spend millions lobbying against the interests working people.

Rallies across the country will condemn the “bailout bandits” and “corporate criminals” at Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo.

Actions will take place in at least 21 cities, and new cities are being added every week. See below for local contacts and find an up to day list of actions at www.jwj.org/recovery.

There are good reasons for all the anger. But it has has yet to lead to a massive public outpouring for progressive reform, as opposed to the corporate-abetted “Tea Party” events that also decry bailouts along with healthcare reform, while leaving the current toothless oversight of the financial industry in place.

Even though federal officials allowed a free-spending set of bailouts with no requirements and little oversight, virtually nothing has been done to make sure the money isn’t wasted and is spent in ways that benefit the economy. Indeed, nobody really knows how the $700 billion in bailout funds was actually spent.

So while inside-the-beltway analysts claim that Obama has an uphill fight in Congress, out-of-control banks and  Wall Street firms are now squandering taxpayers’ funds while returning to trading in risky investments. And credit is still largely frozen, worsening the “jobless recovery.”

As the Media Consortium summed up in its year-later review of the Wall Street collapse:

While workers experienced increasing pressure on their pocketbooks, Wall Street gambled away their retirement investments. Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy one year ago today, a move which created chaos in the financial sector and heavy damage in the rest of the economy. Things were looking bad for the economy before Wall Street imploded, but the financial crisis made those problems a lot worse.

“In a modern society, a credit freeze means instant death to the real economy, since virtually every enterprise, big and small, runs on credit,” Les Leopold explains for In These Times. “When the financial sector froze, it pushed the real economy off a cliff.”

But incredibly, after a year marked by massive financial bailouts, not one new law has been signed to protect our economy–and taxpayers–from Wall Street. Not one.

Even the modest plans to rein in executive pay for taxpayer-supported companies have proved toothless. Leopold notes that President Barack Obama’s refusal to crack down on the banks has left both the financial regulatory process and other important progressive plans–like overhauling the broken health care system–in a precarious political state. The largesse we have shown for bailed-out bankers gives conservatives ammunition against other, more productive activities.

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-media-consortium/weekly-audit-one-year-aft_b_287290.html

Perhaps the biggest promoter of refom, outside of the president himself, is the potentially influential coalition of 200 labor, consumer and  progressive groups, Americans for Financial Reform. It is planning grassroots actions while working with federal and state government officials to promote greater oversight of the financial system.

Indeed, to shore up support for administration proposals to rein in risky  investments, limit pay and offer a new consumer protection agency — all facing stiff industry opposition — the Treasury Department is reaching out to likely consumer allies, including the AFR organization.

So while some progressives and experts, including former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, remain skeptical about how committed this administration is to truly reforming a broken financial system, Bloomberg News reports that

Treasury Department officials are meeting with consumer allies to build support for a regulations overhaul for Wall Street as President Barack Obama ramps up a campaign to win legislation by year’s end.

The Treasury roundtables have been largely unpublicized, by invitation only and billed by some Democratic lawmakers as consumer-protection forums. The audiences are drawn in part from the rolls of a consumer-advocacy coalition that is pushing the legislation. They are designed to channel public anger at Wall Street and sidestep the financial industry, which is fighting to block the measure…

Audiences for the events are drawn largely from the membership of Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition of more than 12 dozen consumer, labor and civil rights groups that joined this year to push for oversight. The coalition includes the Service Employees International Union and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

Illinois Roundtable

The group will hold its next roundtable in Aurora, Illinois, on Sept. 21. State Attorney General Lisa Madigan will lead the session, and the group has invited Representative Bill Foster, an Illinois Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee.

Another non-profit group, Boston-based American Business Leaders for Financial Reform, is recruiting corporate executives to make the case for legislation. Tim Duncan, a Republican and founder of advisory firm Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Story Street Investment Management, created the organization after a conversation with Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School professor who oversees the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“There are a lot of people in the industry who realize reform is needed,” Duncan said in a telephone interview. “I’m surprised at the knee-jerk reaction industry is taking.”

But long-time observers of the financial industry aren’t suprised that a major battle lies ahead—and unions hope to play a leading role in pushing for reform.

And yet if this drive for reform falters, the fate of the entire economy is at stake. As Robert Reich described the risks we’re now facing:

Put simply, the Street has been given too many opportunities to play too many games with other peoples’ money.

But, like the health care industry, Wall Street has platoons of lobbyists and an almost unlimited war chest to protect its interests and prevent change. And with the Dow Jones Industrial Average trending upward again — and the public’s and the media’s attention focused elsewhere, especially on health care — it will be difficult to summon the same sense of urgency financial reform commanded six months ago.

Yet without substantial reform, the nation and the world will almost certainly be plunged into the same crisis or worse at some point in the not-too-distant future. Wall Street’s major banks are already en route to their old, dangerous ways — now made more dangerous by their sure knowledge that they are too big to fail.

About the Author: Art Levine is a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly who has also written for The American Prospect, Alternet, In These Times, Salon, The New Republic, The Atlantic and numerous other publications. He’s written investigative articles on unionbusting and other corporate abuses, and recently completed Cornell University’s Strategic Corporate Research summer program. He blogs regularly for Huffington Post, and co-hosts a weekly Blog Talk Radio show, “The D’Antoni and Levine Show,” every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET.

This article originally appeared in Working In These Times on September 20, 2009. Re-printed with permission from the author.

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