Chicagoans from across the city rallied downtown Thursday afternoon to “out” General Electric as a corporate tax dodger and to call upon U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) to take charge and make corporations pay their fair share.
Chicago is one of 10 cities taking part in the National People's Action campaign this week meant to shine a light on various corporate tax dodgers across the county. According to the protestors, GE received $8.4 billion in federal tax breaks between 2008 and 2010.
“Everyday people are suffering while corporate taxes are at historic lows, even though corporate profits are at an all time high,” said Toby Chow, a leader with IIRON.
The more than 100 protestors gathered outside GE’s Chicago office, at 500 W. Monroe St., while others went inside to deliver a cease and desist order directed to the company’s Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt. The order calls on GE to stop dodging billions of dollars in taxes to “avoid supporting the common good.”
Here’s a look at some of the activists protesting inside and outside GE's office:
The cease and desist order specifically calls on Immelt to resign his position on the corporate CEO lobby group Fix the Debt’s leadership council, pay $28 billion in back corporate taxes and publicly support a federal budget that does not include cuts to social safety net programs.
According to the protestors, GE has made $88 billion in profits over the past 11 years, yet has paid an income tax rate of just 2.4 percent. On top of that, GE dodged U.S. federal income taxes on $108 billion in accumulated offshore profits in 2012, which is a 5.8 percent increase from 2011, according to an analysis by the AFL-CIO as part of its Executive PayWatch webpage.
Meanwhile, the Fix the Debt group, of which Immelt is a member, is pushing for a territorial tax system, which would not tax corporations' offshore profits at all. The group also wants cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the protestors said.
“Jeff Immelt has a $60 million retirement account, but he wants working-class seniors to tighten their belts and deal with Social Security cuts,” Chow said. “It’s time for this to end.”
Kristina Tendilla, a leader at the Benton House community center in Bridgeport, said she has seen first hand how cuts to social safety net programs impact local community members.
“We see people who are sick and unable to get medicine they need,” she said. “We see people losing their jobs and their homes because of Wall Street. We see people who are hungry and no longer able to afford food for their families. These cuts are devastating for working families, children, immigrants and seniors.”
Melissa Rubio, 23, a recent DePaul University graduate, said the federal government “can’t invest in education for intelligent, yet poor students like me,” but it can continue to give handouts to corporations.
“I just graduated from DePaul, and I’m waiting tables, struggling to make ends meet,” she said outside GE’s office. “My adult life is just beginning, and I’m already underemployed and deeply in debt.”
While in college, Rubio said she had to take out more and more loans, while at the same time GE and Fix the Debt were lobbying for cuts to education “just so they can make an extra buck in tax breaks."
“I have to ask Congress and Sen. Durbin: Why wont you stand up for me,” Rubio asked. “Why won’t you stand up for the thousands of students just like me?”
After the GE demonstration, the activists boarded buses and made their way to Federal Plaza to demand that Durbin represent everyday people, not tax-dodging corporations.
Activist Sharon Sanders, 73, took a train in from Northbrook in order to be part of the action.
“It doesn’t matter what issue you name, it’s all connected to the same thing: privatizing everything we have and taking it away from the middle class and the poor," she said on the bus.
The various organizations part of Thursday's action, including Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), ONE Northside and the People's Lobby, among others, have reportedly asked Durbin several times to meet with them about solutions to the federal budget deficit. But thus far, they "have experienced only delaying tactics" from Durbin's staff and have seen "no real effort ... whatsoever" on the congressman's part to meet with them, according to a letter they delivered to his office.
But time is ticking, the protestors stressed.
On September 30, the federal government will hit its deadline to pass a new budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which begins October 1.
With the deadline looming, protestors said Durbin should act now and lead Congress in closing tax loopholes to raise revenue and stave off cuts to social services. The activists also stressed that tax reform should not be “revenue neutral.”
“After years of economic depression and cruel budget cuts, it’s time to set a new course for this country,” Chow said.
That means reinvesting in the “common good” like education, health care, infrastructure and social safety net programs, he added.
“It is time to invest more in these programs, not less,” Chow said. “To pay for this, we need tax-dodging corporations to pay their fair share.”