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Tax the Rich: Working Families Party Targets Corporate Welfare

DemonstrationCorporate OfficersUnemployment and LayoffsReed Elsevier

Last Saturday, for the first time in years, the New Canaan police had to pull up the statute on holding a public picket.

That's because two busloads of protesters descended upon General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt's mansion off Ponus Ridge Road.

The demonstration, which was organized by the Working Families Party, brought in one busload of union members, Occupy New Haven organizers, and sympathizers from around the state. The other bus came directly from the Occupy Wall Street site at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. They came with a clear message, or messages.

To the government, they said tax the rich.

To Immelt himself, they urged him to create jobs in North America.

Michelle Lynn Gschlecht used to work at a metal finishing shop in New Haven that did work for the state Department of Transportation. The company was underbid by a major corporation and Gschlecht lost her job. Since the Occupation of the New Haven Green, Gschlecht has been living in a tent and organizing with the information committee.

"I've been on the street for over a year and it sucks," Gschlecht told the crowd of 100 people packed in to the grassy patch in front of the CEO's mansion.

Immelt earned $21,428,765 last year as CEO of GE, according to the Fairfield County Business Journal.

Jennifer Lopez, another homeless New Haven occupant, says tax breaks to the wealthy kill programs that could help other homeless folks, like emergency shelters, rehab clinics, and career training programs.

Mary Van Doren of New Milford says she feels lucky compared to those two, but has it pretty rough herself. She was laid off twice in 2000 after Elsevier, a multi-national corporation, bought out her workplace and started shedding jobs.

"I've sent out dozens and dozens of resumes," Van Doren says. "But in this economy, I am too old to work, and too young to die."

Van Doren says she had to burn through her retirement savings just to save her house, and then had to dip into an inheritance that was set aside for her children's college fund just to keep her head above water.

Working Families Party organizer Joe Green says GE has shed 19,000 North American jobs since 2008. Speaking to the 50 protesters on the chartered bus, Green explained the mission of the picket.

"While we're told we have to get by with less, CEOs are making record profits off the backs of working-class people," Green says. "Since we took all this trouble to come see how the 1 percent live, we wanted to invite Jeff Immelt to come see how the 99 percent live."

GE spokesman Andrew Williams says GE has in fact been building factories in the U.S. and employs 6,000 people in Connecticut, and "has announced" more than 10,000 new manufacturing jobs since 2009.

The action was the fourth in a series planned by the Working Families Party pointing at corporations who are receiving what they call "corporate welfare."

The first action was held at PEZ in Orange, where about 20 people called on the company to "dispense some jobs." Then WFP went to Pfizer and held a "candle light vigil for the middle class" outside their Groton headquarters.

The 2004 Americans Job Creation Act gave tax cuts to super-wealthy corporations with the purpose of bringing jobs back to the U.S. Pfizer was one of the largest benefactors of this legislation. But since receiving these breaks, Pfizer has in fact shed over a thousand jobs in Connecticut. In 2009 the company closed its New London campus, moving 1,400 jobs to its Groton headquarters.

The campus itself was built after an epic eminent domain battle in 2001 that forced New London residents from their homes to make way for the gigantic construction project. The City of New London also gave Pfizer a huge tax break, where the company would only have to pay one-fifth of its property taxes for the first 10 years. Eight years later, the company closed its $294 million complex. Then in February, the company announced it would lay off 1,100 workers at the Groton campus, moving those jobs to Massachusetts or overseas. Pfizer spokesman Sperry Mylott would not disclose how many workers the company currently employs in the state.

WFP also rallied outside insurance group The Hartford, whose office is right next to the Occupy Hartford encampment.

Working Families Party activists say the company made over $1.5 billion in profits last year, but still eliminated 2,000 Connecticut jobs in the past three years.

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