Established in May 2016, Take On Wall Street (TOWS) is an anti-capitalist coalition of left-wing groups that favor large-scale wealth redistribution and high rates of taxation designed to fund an ever-expanding federal government and welfare state, which would represent “a better financial system.” Foremost in TOWS’s cross hairs are “big Wall Street banks,” which the coalition says “are devouring this country’s wealth” by “feasting on our jobs, our benefits and our pensions.” Another leading concern is the notion that America’s “corrupt campaign finance system” renders “the voices of the billionaire class … the only voices that are heard in our democracy.” Moreover, TOWS complains about state-level “anti–worker legislation” that restricts minimum-wage levels, imposes new limits on unemployment benefits, sets stricter guidelines regarding overtime pay and family leave, offers workers the right to decide whether or not to join a union, or bars employers and unions from negotiating contracts that require private-sector workers to pay labor fees or dues.
On May 24, 2016, TOWS’s member groups formally announced the launch of their new alliance at an event that featured a speech by Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. There, TOWS articulated its plan to hold a series of direct actions and public campaigns throughout the upcoming election season, with a heavy focus on the importance of constantly imposing new financial regulations on all manner of industries.
More than 40 progressive organizations are currently part of the TOWS coalition. Among these are the AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Public Citizen, the Working Families Party, The Nation. the Institute for Policy Studies, New York Communities for Change (a local rebranding of the defunct organization ACORN), Citizen Action New York, Friends Of The Earth, the National Education Association, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Daily Kos, The Other 98, AFSCME, MoveOn.org, People For the American Way, Credo, American Family Voices, the Economic Policy Institute, UNITE Here!, Democracy for America, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, the Campaign for America’s Future, United Food and Commercial Workers, and the Agenda Project.
Notable individual supporters of TOWS include Congressional Representatives Keith Ellison and Nydia Velazquez, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, AFT president Randi Weingarten, and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin.
In its quest to help “re-write the rules to make the economy work for working families, not just billionaires and big banks,” TOWS enumerates the following policy priorities:
- Break up the Banks: Lamenting that “Wall Street is dominated by giant ‘too big to fail’ banks” that “are able to demand government backing not available to ordinary businesses or workers,” TOWS claims that “a big contributor to the creation of these mega-banks” was the repeal in 1999 of the so-called “Glass-Steagall” Act, which had long provided “separation between commercial banking (activities like deposit-taking and lending) and Wall Street trading (speculation and riskier investments).”
- Institute a “Public Option” for Banking: Claiming that “nearly 28% of U.S. households rely,” for their banking and credit needs, on “fringe and often predatory financial institutions” that promote “abusive and aggressively marketed products,” TOWS says it is time to create “a ‘public option’ like postal banking and public banks.”
- Enact a Wall Street Sales Tax: Also known as a financial transaction tax, speculation tax, or Robin Hood tax, this would be “a small fee of a few cents per $100 that would be imposed on transactions in stocks, bonds, or derivatives.”
- Stop Stock Buybacks: “It’s time to stop corporate executives from buying back the company’s stock to juice share prices and pass the cash to themselves and wealthy shareholders.”
- Rein in Executive Pay: Complaining that “CEOs are … paid mind-boggling sums,” TOWS says: “We need to end taxpayer subsidies for CEO bonuses, and force corporations to reveal the ratio between their CEO’s salary and their median employee’s.”
- Curb Wall Street’s Influence in Washington: Because “the pervasive role [that] money plays in our politics has thrown our democracy into crisis,” TOWS seeks to end “the traditional scenario of lobbying and campaign contributions buying favorable laws for … Wall Street and the super rich,” and to stop “the revolving door between industry and government.”
- End the “Carried Interest” Tax Loophole, which “allows financial executives to pay a lower tax rate than teachers, nurses, and firefighters.”
- Raise Taxes on High Earners: Asserting that “our tax system is rigged in favor of Wall Street and the super rich,” TOWS demands that “Congress … change this by closing loopholes and restructuring tax policies to reward work, not wealth.”
- Place Limits on Private Equity: “Much like the corporate raiders of the 1980s,… private Wall Street firms are increasingly buying control over businesses, housing, education, consumer lending, energy, infrastructure and more, making a small class of money managers extremely rich.”
- Racial Discrimination and Predatory Lending: TOWS condemns “the unconscionable willingness of many lawmakers to enable racial discrimination in lending, and the extraction of wealth from people of color and women and especially women of color.”
- Prevent Privatization of Government Services: Asserting that “financial players are rigging the rules” by attempting to “privatize government services,” TOWS claims that “privatization allows financial players to treat public goods like schools, roads, and clean water as an opportunity to profit by extracting wealth from communities, particularly low-income and communities of color.”
- Reform Public Pension Systems: TOWS objects to the fact that “over the last few decades, U.S. public pension funds have moved away from traditional stocks and bonds and toward so-called ‘alternative investments’, including hedge funds and private equity firms,” which “are not as transparent, regulated, or stable as public companies.”
Further Reading: “Take On Wall Street Lays Out New Reform Agenda” (BillMoyers.com, 5-25-2016); “A New Coalition Aims to ‘Take On Wall Street’” (The Nation, 5-25-2016); “Our Members” (TakeOnWallSt.com); “Issues” (TakeOnWallSt.com).
- “About Take On Wall Street” (TakeOnWallSt.com); “Take On Wall Street” (ActionNetwork.org).
- “Elizabeth Warren Calls On Americans To Fight Wall Street” (ThinkProgress.org, 5-24-2016); “The Occupy Movement Has Grown Up and Looks to Inflict Real Pain on Big Banks” (Washington Post, 5-24-2016).