An estimated 1,000 people marched on Chase Bank in Detroit on June 25 during the U.S. Social Forum to demand a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions and an end to Chase’s funding of RJ Reynolds’ abuse of farmworkers in North Carolina’s tobacco fields.
The demonstration, organized by Detroit’s Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and the Faith and Spirituality Committee of the USSF, drew farmworkers, Detroit residents, trade unionists, members of the faith community and activists from across the country to target the bank for its attacks on workers and its role in the economic crisis.
The action began with a rally at Grand Circus Park and pushed downtown through the financial district as chants of “Bail out people, not banks!” and “Chase Bank, shame on you, farmworkers are people too!” filled the streets. Once at Chase, a spirited picket line was formed that completely surrounded the bank.
The demonstration swelled up the steps of the bank as a delegation that had intended to meet with bank officials to discuss the demands was blocked from entering the building. After a standoff and struggle at the door with police, the delegation, which consisted of FLOC president Baldemar Velásquez, United Auto Workers president Bob King and religious leaders, was allowed to enter the building.
FLOC has been organizing for more than three years to win improvements in working conditions for tobacco workers in the fields of North Carolina who supply RJ Reynolds. Despite organizing massive community pressure on Reynolds to win basic increases in human rights for farmworkers, the tobacco giant refuses to negotiate with the workers.
FLOC has developed a new approach of looking at who does business with Reynolds as a way to pressure the company to come to the table. “JP Morgan Chase is the largest Reynolds creditor and gives almost a half billion dollars in credit to Reynolds. When they receive repayments on the loans they give, they are profiting off of those conditions for farmworkers,” said FLOC organizer Justin Flores.
“We decided to organize a future boycott and get pledges from people all over the U.S. with Chase bank accounts or credit cards to be willing to take out their money the day after Labor Day if JP Morgan Chase doesn’t do something to pressure Reynolds about the working conditions.”
Chase Bank was also targeted because of its role in the predatory lending scandal that continues to cost taxpayers billions of dollars and resulted in the ongoing foreclosure epidemic that has devastated whole sections of Detroit and other cities.
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition has been raising a demand for several years for a national moratorium on foreclosures and evictions which would cost nothing and allow families to stay in their homes. One coalition organizer told this reporter how refreshing it was to hear the new UAW president leading chants for the moratorium.
The focus aimed at both the foreclosure crisis and attacks on working people exposed the central role the banks continue to play in the ongoing economic crisis. The unity built between the struggles to win a moratorium on foreclosures and for farmworkers to get justice in the fields was a major advance for both struggles.
Carroll is an organizer in Raleigh, N.C., with the youth organization Fight Imperialism, Stand Together.