Eyes on Switzerland

Posted by Bob Lord

A week from today, history may be made. In Switzerland.

The Swiss, you see, will vote next Sunday on the "1:12" initiative. Effectively, this sets a maximum wage, something that's never been done before in a developed country. Under 1:12, no Swiss company may pay an executive more than twelve times the pay of its lowest paid worker. 

As Sam Pizzigati of Institute for Policy Studies reports, the Swiss plutocracy is apoplectic. The initiative movement was started by young activists in Switzerland's Social Democratic Party, who sensed public outrage at CEO pay, which is the highest in Europe, but a bit less than in the US. Ballot initiatives require 100,000 signatures in Switzerland, a requirement that was satisfied last spring.

Since then, Corporate Switzerland has been working feverishly to defeat the initiative. Reportedly, it has outspent the initiatives proponents by 50 to 1, but the race is tight. 

Recently, the "no" forces have pulled ahead, but even if the initiative fails, the movement behind it may be gathering momentum anyhow. Pizzigati reports:

Polling released last week does have the “no” side gaining ground, and passage this Sunday, observers feel, remains a longshot. But however the vote goes, activist Cédric Wermuth stresses, egalitarians have made substantial progress.

“We’ve launched,” he notes, “a major debate about wage equality and a just income distribution, a subject regarded as taboo before.”

Advocates for the 1:12 initiative see their effort as part of a broader “strategic counter-project” to top 1 percent-friendly rule changes that have made Switzerland so much less equal over recent decades.

Next steps are already filling the Swiss referendum pipeline: an initiative to create a basic minimum income for everyone in Switzerland — at the equivalent of $2,800 a month — and campaigns to put in place both a stiff inheritance tax and a new tax on foreigners using Switzerland as a tax haven. 

Switzerland’s 1:12 activists also see themselves as part of a global effort, and 1:12-like campaigns, they note proudly, have taken root in France and Germany. 

Get that? A basic income guarantee, a stiff inheritance tax, and limits on executive pay. Wow!

Watch these developments carefully. If this movement takes hold in Europe, it will make its way across the pond in no time. This is a progressive populist candidate's dream. And the timing for the 2016 election may be just about right.

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