UPDATE: Unfortunately, the 1:12 initiative vote failed to produce positive results. We wish the Swiss the best of luck in future attempts to deal with the issues plaguing both of our nations.
This Sunday, those crazy Socialists are going to tackle an issue America’s powers-that-be largely ignore: income inequality. For the first time ever, voters in a developed nation will be voting on what is, essentially, a “maximum wage.”
The 1:12 Initiative aims to tackle the ever-widening wage gap between employees and their corporate overlords by limiting CEO pay to 12x the lowest-paid worker’s compensation. This move would make Swiss companies think long and hard about paying exploitative wages to those upon whose backs the profits are built.
This move came about after Juso, the youth wing of Switzerland’s Social Democratic Party, realized that CEO pay has gotten out of control in the country. For instance, CEO pay at the pharmaceutical company, Roche, is 236 times that of the lowest paid worker. In 1984, CEO pay averaged just six times that of the lowest wages. By 2011, the ratio was 43:1.
David Roth, the head of the party’s youth wing, says that in a country of 8 million, over 400,000 workers don’t make a livable wage. “I think we have to change something, because otherwise we’ll go in a direction like the USA did in the last decade where people get homeless, for example, and other people had millions of dollars,” Roth told NPR. “It’s a big problem if you have such inequality in a rich country.” Switzerland is, as Roth claims, rich! In fact, it has more millionaires per capita than the United States!
Juso pushed to accumulate the 100,000 signatures needed for a national referendum and, having attained that, embarked on a massive PR campaign for the measure. However opponents have, according to some sources, outspent supporters by as much as 50 times. Nestle, Novartis, and other companies have inundated workers with anti-1:12 propaganda.
Media coverage has been hostile, as well. It is estimated that only about 15% of coverage of the measure has been positive, with newspapers and other media being largely hostile to the 1:12 initiative.
In a statement that would make American right wingers proud, SwissHoldings, a federation of Swiss-based multinational corporations, says the move would be a “frontal attack on freedom” and “prosperity.” The organization promises that if the measure passes, “almost all” of Switzerland’s corporate giants “would be forced to restructure or move parts of their companies abroad.” GlencoreXstrata CEO Ivan Glasenberg promised that his company would pull out of Switzerland much in the same way as Wal Mart threatened to pull out of Washington, DC if living wage legislation passed.
Lawmaker Ruedi Noser amped up the paranoid drivel a spot more. Channeling Sarah Palin, he claimed that the measure would turn Switzerland into the “North Korea of Europe.”
Despite the corporate scare tactics, propaganda campaigns, and all-out war on this attempt at leveling the playing field a bit, public support for the 1:12 initiative is high. Until recently, support on both sides was about even. However, the “no” campaign seems to have won some support. A poll released on Wednesday showed 54% against the measure and 36% for it, with 10% undecided.
Voters have shown support for controls on executive pay in the past, though. Recently,Switzerland passed one of the world’s strictest measures to deal with executive pay–a stepping stone to the 1:12 initiative–which gives shareholders a say in executive pay–a proposal that was met with a similar fear campaign.
In October, a petition to guarantee a minimum income of $2800 to all Swiss adults hit 120,000 signatures. Supporters dumped a truckload of 8 million five-cent coins in front of the parliament building in Bern to show that they mean business. That’s one coin for each Swiss citizen!
The vote on the 1:12 initiative is tomorrow, so we will soon find out if workers will win this battle.