NEW YORK (Reuters) - Small crowds of protesters angered by the government’s $180 billion bailout of AIG marched in cities across the United States on Thursday, mocking bonuses paid to employees who helped push the company to the brink of collapse.
The largest U.S. labor union, the SEIU, and leftist activists from MoveOn.org among others called protests for more than 100 cities the day after President Barack Obama declared, “People are right to be angry — I’m angry.”
Obama was responding to public outrage after the insurance giant recently paid $165 million in bonuses to employees of its financial products unit, which wrote the credit default swaps that led to AIG’s downfall.
“I am outraged at the continued misbehavior of our financial companies that are trying to destroy the country,” said Deborah Laurel, 54, an architect who was among 100 protesters in New York’s financial district, near Wall Street.
The demonstrations also took aim at banks and other financial institutions whose overexposure to subprime mortgages and exotic derivatives fueled the financial crisis.
Organizers had forecast a nationwide turnout of 10,000 protesters and initial indications showed they would fall short of that number.
On Wednesday, AIG Chairman Edward Liddy confronted angry questions from a congressional panel. Moving with unusual speed, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to impose a 90 percent tax on bonuses for executives whose incomes exceed $250,000 and whose companies received at least $5 billion in government bailout money.
“These corporate leaders have brought the greatest economy in the world to its knees,” Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, told about 100 protesters outside the AIG office in Washington.
Although mostly small, the protests were animated.
About 130 people in Boston marched from the Bank of America offices to AIG’s offices, waving placards and shouting: “Our tax dollars are going to bolstering up these banks.”
Bank of America and AIG are among financial services institutions that have received hundreds of billions in U.S. bailout money.
“We’re furious. ... We are sick and tired of corporate greed and excess,” Monica Sandschafer, organizer for a community organization, told about 50 protesters outside the American International Group office in Phoenix.
Some 500 SEIU members marched peacefully through a few blocks of downtown Chicago.
With some chanting: “Hey hey, ho ho, where did all the money go?” the demonstrators, many of them janitors and healthcare workers, waved signs and demanded that bonuses paid to AIG executives and by large banks be returned.
“I’m worried about my elderly clients’ savings going to the AIG executives and to the banks,” Alicia Lee, 42, a home healthcare provider said.
Several dozen San Francisco protesters gathered in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch in the financial district before heading several blocks to AIG’s offices in the Bank of America skyscraper.
Marching in a huge circle, the lunch-time demonstrators held up placards demanding economic justice. One sign, “Asinine Incomprehensible Greed,” mocked AIG’s initials.
In Houston, about 20 people railed against the U.S. bank bailout at branches of Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Comerica.
Reporting by Christine Kearney in New York, Tim Gaynor in Phoenix, Andy Sullivan in Washington, Bob Galbraith in San Francisco, Andrew Stern in Chicago and Bruce Nichols in Houston; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Peter Cooney