cover image The Rise of the Working- Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon

The Rise of the Working- Class Shareholder: Labor’s Last Best Weapon

David Webber. Harvard Univ, $35 (339p) ISBN 978-0-674-97213-1

Webber, a Boston University School of Law professor, argues that though the working class is widely perceived to be suffering, its members in fact have tremendous potential economic power in the form of the trillions of dollars held in their pension funds. These funds­, which estimates put at somewhere between one-third and one-half of all private equity, can, and should, Webber argues, be used to shape the economy in the interests of workers. By exercising their rights as shareholders in major companies, the working class and their allies have found a backdoor to boardrooms, demanding reform on matters such as CEO pay. Webber weaves narratives of activist campaigns (pension fund administrators, union staffers, and government comptrollers are the book’s unlikely heroes) with fine-grained analysis of the relevant legal and financial concepts in accessible prose. He shows how working-class shareholder activists have taken the lead in divesting entirely from under-performing hedge funds or negotiating better arrangements with private equity funds. Webber suggests that they could also use their power to benefit labor, noting, for example, that the retirement funds of public employees are often managed by private equity firms that invest in companies that take jobs away from the public sector. (In one of the cases cited, a Massachusetts-wide trust invested public employee retirement funds in Aramark, a facility-management and food-service provider that competes with public employee unions to service prisons and public schools.) Webber marshals a lot of information into a common sense argument that will appeal to anyone with an interest in the current labor movement. (Apr.)