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National Unions, International Capital, and Bank Workers Steven Payne DOI: 10.5876/9781607326311.c012 Almost every month in 2016 brought news of yet another financial scheme based on fictitious money, debt gambled on debt, all arranged to siphon money from the working class to the pockets of the one percent. The 2008 financial collapse was only the most visible instance of the dominance of the financial industry over the rest of the economy. Financiers bought up mountains of mortgage debt, encouraging banks to continue extending lines of credit to families ill-prepared to handle the ballooning interest rates and fees hidden in small print and footnotes. The whole house of cards collapsed when it came to light that there was little to no real money backing up the abstract financial instruments financiers used to profit off foreclosure and home loss. Internationally, US financial capital continued to practice a neocolonialism through its ability to crash entire economies through massive infusions or withdrawals of financial capital from stock markets or currency markets and utilizes microfinance to extract profit from the Third World (Bateman 2015). All over the world, governments struggled to rein in financial capital, awash with new forms of fictive money, often based on workers’ pension funds. 312 Steven Payne Activists in a variety of social movements have come to view high finance as the opposition power behind many of their campaigns. Wall Street finance has found a way to creep into the daily lives of almost all Americans: its presence is felt in auto and home loans, art, gambling, education, and nonprofit foundations such as those Darcy Pan discusses in this book. Activists now target banks and financial companies not just for their direct exploitation through mortgages and other financial instruments, but also for financing environmental degradation, corrupting democracy, privatizing schools—the list goes on. Yet one fact remained mostly hidden in stories of financial collapse: the role of bank workers and finance workers. As with other workers, their labor is usually invisible. While high finance may be an abstraction, its origins lie in concrete places and times. The place where finance is instantiated—where the work of recording the agreements that constitute the investment instruments occurs—is banks. Subsequent studies, including an in-depth New York Times article on the financial collapse in Memphis (Powell 2010), have revealed that banks routinely pressured their employees to press new mortgages on clients. To meet their sales goals and get bullying supervisors off their backs, bank workers lied and obfuscated contract terms, particularly interest rates that began low but ballooned in the future. The 2008 financial collapse originated in these sham mortgage sales. Labor unions in Brazil and the United States have decided to tackle this international scourge by organizing bank workers. Advocates point to the lack of bank worker unions in the United States as one reason for the widespread damaging practices of the finance industry. Stephen Lerner, a veteran union organizer and one of the architects behind the current drive to organize bank workers, argues that unionized bank workers would be more secure to act as whistleblowers and reveal early on when their employers force them to engage in morally and ethically dubious behavior (Lerner n.d.). Bank workers could also negotiate rules into union contracts regarding sales goals—as they have begun to do in Brazil with limited success. Higher wages in the banking industry could also create a check on the obscene earnings of top executives and shareholders. Labor unions in both countries find themselves in distinctly different positions as they attempt to take on high finance. Despite new threats from the right wing, Brazilian unions have attained a strength of which any US union 313 National Unions, International Capital, and Bank Workers would be envious. The 2002 election of Worker’s Party (PT) candidate Lula, member of the metalworkers’ union, and subsequent elections of Dilma Rousseff, his vice president, exemplify this strength. In stark contrast, the US labor movement, representing only 10.7 percent of all workers in 2016 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017), today finds itself in a vicious downward spiral, as ever-decreasing membership rates lead to reduced political and economic influence, which leads to lower membership rates, and so on. Despite the different circumstances, however, labor and social movements in both countries find themselves under attack from the common enemy of international financial capital. Global finance, with its ability to move billions of dollars around the world in a matter of seconds, is capable...


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