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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Workers and Shareholders Can Check Corporate Abuse

Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers union, has an article up at AlterNet, “Workers of the World Unite — with Shareholders,” which all 99 percenters should find encouraging. Gerard explains:

At Citigroup, shareholders had their say on CEO pay — and they yelled, “No damn way!”…Concerted action by shareholders, workers and public interest groups compelled corporate change in several other cases this spring as well…At least three CEOs resigned. Executives truncated one shareholder meeting to 12 minutes. And across America and Europe, CEOs lamented the end of automatic approval for excessive executive compensation.
A wave of corporate change is rising because the rabble and the stockholders share an interest: decent corporate governance. To shareholders, decent means more long-term corporate vision providing reasonable returns and fewer risky, quick-profit schemes benefiting only executives. To workers, the unemployed, community and environmental groups, decent means operating corporations in the best interest of the nation, including treating workers with dignity and refraining from polluting. Together, the rabble and the shareholders wield power.

At ExxonMobil’s shareholder meeting next week, Gerard reports, activists will introduce resolutions to establish a climate change/greenhouse gas reductions task force for the company. The coalition will also protest the failure of the company to implement health and safety reforms at one of its major refineries, even though refinery explosions have killed 17 workers during the last 7 years.
They will also try to force CEO and Chairman Rex Tillerson to give up one of his offices at the company, because corporate boards are supposed to oversee executives and their pay, which is how Tillerson helped to leverage himself a big pay hike last year — from $29 million to $34.9 million, while the company denied smaller pay raises for its all-female clerical staff at Baytown. Gerard also notes that shareholder activists have checked exorbitant pay raises at Citigroup and three large British companies. Overall, adds Gerard, U.S. CEO’s make 325 times the pay of a “typical worker.”
The grand strategy of the worker-shareholder coalition going forward, according to Gerard, is “to demonstrate at more shareholder meetings than ever in American history to make corporations more accountable to their communities, workers and shareholders.”
In addition to addressing outrageous executive pay, environmental and worker safety concerns, it’s just possible that the shareholder-worker coalition could have a beneficial impact in checking corporate contributions to political campaigns. Activist shareholders have experienced some impressive success over the years. But it now looks like their future campaigns can do even more to compel accountability in corporate governance, opening up a new and promising strategy for progressive change.

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