Taking Down Wells Fargo One Account At A Time

Can We Forgo Wells Fargo?

Tuesday, 08 November 2016 Sarah Anderson, Inequality.org

When disgraced Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf was forced to resign a few weeks ago, it was a victory for economic justice. But this move, however dramatic, does not go far enough to fix the problems with Wells Fargo and Wall Street.

A diverse array of progressive organizations are joining forces to not only end Wells Fargo’s predatory practices, but also increase the pressure for broad Wall Street reform that puts people and communities first.

Through a new “Forgo Wells” campaign, they are pushing city councils, state legislatures, school boards, and other public bodies to stop doing business with Wells Fargo. And they’ve already scored some wins.

The groups launching this divestment campaign include national organizations like Jobs with Justice, the Communications Workers of America, and Center for Popular Democracy, as well as local groups like New York Communities for Change, Minnesota-based Isaiah, and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

Inequality.org co-editor Sarah Anderson interviewed ACCE’s executive director, Christina Livingston, about her involvement in the Forgo Wells campaign.

Sarah Anderson: How did you come to be involved in this campaign?

Christina Livingston: Since our doors opened in 2010, Wall Street accountability work has been a staple issue. That’s because so many of the issues people are battling have connections to Wall Street banks. From the foreclosure crisis, to wealth stripping of cities and municipalities, to student debt, and beyond, Wall Street banks and hedge funds are behaving in ways that harm you and me for the sake of unchecked power and greed.

Last year we engaged in a campaign organizing bank workers under our worker justice campaign umbrella and quickly realized that bank workers were being treated poorly by the big banks in many ways, including the use of unrealistic sales goals.

Working with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), we began to research how widespread these sales goals were and the impact they were having on workers. We didn’t know then that because of these sales goals Wells Fargo workers were being compelled to open fraudulent accounts. However, given our interactions with Wells Fargo in the past, we were not surprised to find that such a widespread fraudulent practice existed. In fact, this is very reminiscent of the robo-signing practice Wells Fargo was found guilty of during the height of the foreclosure crisis.

What role will ACCE be playing in the Forgo Wells campaign?

Given that Wells Fargo is based in San Francisco, we felt compelled to immediately begin working with some of our largest California cities to call on the city government to take action. Already the Los Angeles City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have moved to suspend business with Wells Fargo and we plan to move at least 2-3 other cities in the coming months to take action. We are also encouraging organizing groups in other states to work with their legislators to suspend business with Wells at the state or city level.

Why is this a strategic moment for targeting Wells Fargo?

First, hubris and exploitation is in their DNA.  They have never worked with community organizations, and racially biased marketing and fraud is baked into their way of doing business. It is sort of like a game of Jenga (or house of cards). Once you pull out that piece that makes the tower fall, which in this case was the fraud that front-line workers were forced to commit, you unearth many more parts of fraudulent behavior, and realize it is pervasive through everything.

Just a couple days ago, Wells reached a $50 million settlement for mortgage appraisal fraud. There are so many ways in which they are corrupt, and their tentacles are everywhere. They are invested big in private prisons, police foundations, the Dakota Access pipeline, Puerto Rican bonds. Basically, they are invested everywhere, and bad things come from their investments.

Do you see any potential for building alliances that cut across partisan lines in this campaign?

We think so. Part of the right-wing pushback against Hillary Clinton is that she has been friends with Wall Street.  People do not trust her to stand up to the banks and hedge funds. Some of Trump’s economic appeal has been his willingness to “tell it like it is.” And there are unfortunately some Bernie followers who are supporting Trump. The anti-Wall Street message holds both major parties accountable.

Is this campaign just about Wells Fargo or are you trying to address broader problems with Wall Street?

This is absolutely not just a campaign about Wells Fargo, it is about all the big banks and hedge funds that are implementing practices and policies that hurt communities in order to deliver for the wealthy few at the top. Wells is emblematic of what everyone else is doing.

What would victory look like for you?

If we are really successful, we would see the break-up of Wells Fargo and would send a message that banks will be held responsible for the ways they treat their workers, shareholders, and customers.  Along the way, we hope to get a fair amount of justice in monetary settlements, rights for workers, and divestment from a host of racist and exploitative investments.

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