Chicago Mercantile Exchange Entrance Blockaded As Protesters Criticize Huge Tax Break

Seniors, people with disabilities and health care workers blocked the front entrance to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange(CME) on Wednesday, May 23 around 9:30 am, as well the adjacent Jackson and LaSalle Streets. Police moved in about half an hour later and ordered people to clear the streets or face arrest. Demonstrators were protesting the CME's parent company (CME Group) which was awarded multi-million-dollar tax breaks while human services were being cut by the State of Illinois.

Protestors block Jackson Blvd
Protestors block Jackson Blvd in front of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange

Most of the demonstrators moved on to the sidewalk, but some continued to block the street by sitting down or not moving their wheelchairs. They were arrested and escorted to an impromptu arrest area next to the CME building, given citations and then released from custody. According to arrestee Jim Rhodes, a total of 15 people were arrested and processed.

Arrests at the Merc Blockade

 The arrests were conducted courteously by the police and without the use of clubs or cuffs, in marked contrast to the rough handling and violence used against anti-NATO protestors over the weekend.

About  200 people gathered in support of the 15 people who sat-in, all of them victims of Governor Pat Quinn’s proposal to slash $210 million programs that provide home care services to seniors and people with disabilities. May 23 was the day when CME Group held its annual shareholder meeting, and protestors called on the company to give back tax breaks that will exceed $1 billion in the coming decade, and are depleting $77 million that would otherwise be available to home care and other crucial state programs this year alone.

The drastic reductions proposed for the home care programs could force 90,000 seniors and people with disabilities into nursing homes, dramatically increasing costs for the state.  Meanwhile, the massive tax breaks afforded to CME come at a time when the company earned $1.9 billion in profits last year and the state treasury is plagued by a revenue shortage.

The "Merc" as the CME is commonly called in Chicago, began as an agricultural exchange in 1898. Today  the Merc trades several types of financial instruments including currency and commodities. It also  trades in more exotic fare, such as weather and real estate derivatives, and has the largest options and futures contracts  of any exchange on the planet. Like its cousin on Wall Street, much of the Merc's activity is pure speculation, the kind of casino-style gambling that crashed the global economy in 2008 and provides little investment in the "real economy" of jobs and small businesses.

CME Group had threatened to move out of Illinois last year if it did not receive its one billion tax dollar break. When this ugly form of corporate blackmail was approved, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn proposed a budget calling for drastic cuts to child care, home care, and health care services funded by Medicaid. This chain of events outraged people across the state and led to yesterday's protest.

 “We’re here to show CME officials how much it costs the 99 percent when billion-dollar corporations demand tax breaks they clearly don’t need,” said home care consumer Rachel Siler, who participated in the civil disobedience in front of the CME Wednesday. “When the state pampers greedy corporations, it punishes working families.  People like me lose vital services like home care, and taxpayers have to spend more on nursing homes.”

 Mike Ervin spoke at the short rally that preceded  the arrests saying,

“It’s time we bust this myth about Illinois being broke.   Our budget deficit is caused by tax policies that let greedy corporations and the rich make out like bandits, while everyone else pays the price.  We need a fair tax policy that ends tax breaks for wealthy corporations and asks the rich to pay more than someone making minimum wage.” 

Mike Ervin's complete speech in front of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange

Annette Jones, a 69 year old home care worker with 17 years experience and one of the arrestees, had a direct and simple message to take to the CME Group," The CME needs to pay their taxes and give home care workers a chance to take care of our seniors who need our help." Jones fears that without the services that she provides, seniors will be forced out of their homes.

 The protest was organized by the Stand Up! Chicago coalition which is made up dozens of community, labor, and faith-based organizations. Stand Up Chicago is also sponsored a mass rally and march later in the afternoon. After having a Peoples' Shareholder meeting, the assembled union members and community activists voted to divest CME of their tax break and return that money to the working people. The march was a lively parade of singing, chants and lots of dancing down the LaSalle Street financial district to the music of a very energetic band in clown costumes. When they reached the CME, organizers had hoisted two enormous banners, one in front of the The Merc and the other in front of the federal reserve,The message is,”Give back our tax dollars.” 

Stand Up Chicago
Stand Up Chicago marched down LaSalle Street's financial district

 Stand Up! Chicago was joined by thousands of Chicago Teachers Union members who had held a mass rally of their own to protest Mayor Emanuel’s attacks on public education.  The teachers union members met Stand Up Chicago at the Mercantile Exchange and continued marching  through the South Loop. Other unions who supported Stand Up Chicago’s actions are  SEIU Local 1, SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana, SEIU Local 73 and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America.

Chicago Teachers UnionFor a time, the streets belonged to the teachers

These actions are in the same spirit as the National Nurses’ United rally on May 18  to support a global Financial Transactions Tax, which drew thousands of nurses and supporters. Commonly called a “Robin Hood Tax”, it would be small percentage on certain high end transactions, exempting 401k’s and other transactions commonly done by working people. Stand Up Chicago proposed a similar tax on CME Group's high risk derivative trading earlier this year.

Stand Up Chicago issued an excellent economic plan for Chicago entitled Investing in Chicago Communities: A Jobs Fund for a Future That Works produced in conjunction with the Chicago Political Economy Group. It's an excellent alternative to what the financial barons of LaSalle Street are planning for us.

Sit-in in front of CBOT
Jackson Blvd in front of CBE about 9:30 May 23.



Sources Consulted

Press Release from Stand up Chicago from May 23

Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s golden toilet by Jake Olzen

Stand Up Chicago website

Investing in Chicago Communities: A Jobs Fund for a Future That Works by the  Chicago Political Economy Group

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange website 

Nurses Hold Massive Peaceful Rally In Center Of Chicago by Matthew Blake

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