Saturday, 12 March 2011

Bringing down the banks - from Cantona to Wisconsin

A few months back a rambling interview with former footballer Eric Cantona ignited a campaign called StopBanque. In the video Cantona says
"We don't pick up weapons to kill people to start the revolution. The revolution is really easy to do nowadays ... The system revolves around the banks. It's based on the power of the banks so it must be destroyed starting with the banks ... The 3 million people with their placards on the street, they should go to the bank, withdraw their money from the banks and the banks collapse."

The interview went viral and a date was sent in France (with smaller campaigns elsewhere) for people to withdraw their funds from the banks: 7 December. It had little or no effect. While superficially appealing to many (otherwise it wouldn't have gone viral), it gave rise to many practical questions: the main one being, 'then what do I do with my money?'

Most people whether super-rich or of modest means are naturally cautious about all their worldly wealth being kept under the mattress. If you're asking people to boycott all banks where do they put their money?

But could successor campaigns get the formula right? Following the exposure about their low corporation tax payments, obscene bonuses and offshore subsidiaries, there have been demands all over the blogosphere and twitter to boycott Barclays. This leaves people the option of turning to another bank - and would act as a warning to others, 'you could be next, we're watching you'. There's no evidence though yet that this is happening.

For evidence of success though, see Wisconsin, where the firefighters union asked union members to withdraw their money from M&I Bank. The bank's executives and board members were among the highest donors to Governor Scott Walker's election campaign.

The response has been impressive, with union members withdrawing hundred of thousands of dollars, forcing the bank to close its doors at 3pm yesterday and issue a desperate statement distancing itself from the donations of its executives and board.

Could a similar message go out from unions here? 'Collaborate with the coalition government and we'll boycott you'.

Whether it's political donations, capital flight, currency speculation or outright capital strikes, capital has always been ruthless in applying political pressure.

If we want to curtail their political power, why not bring one down - it would build a huge amount of confidence and be a warning to others - Wisconsin might be showing the way and King Eric might approve too.

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