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A Daring Bid to Stomp Out CEO Pay Excess

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Swiss multinationals bitterly opposed Minder's proposal. But his initiative passed anyway this past March, with a stunning 67.9 percent of the vote.

Corporate interests don't have to reveal how many millions they're pouring into the campaign to kill the  1:12  initiative, and some observers are estimating that initiative opponents may be outspending supporters by as much as 50 times.

Adding to the huge drumbeat against  1:12 : official opposition from Switzerland's Federal Council, the country's ministerial cabinet. The Swiss media, meanwhile, have been overwhelmingly hostile as well.

"No major Swiss newspaper is supporting the  1:12  initiative," Juso activist Mattea Meyer tells Too Much, and only about 15 percent of major media coverage, she estimates, has been friendly to the pay cap effort.

Remarkably enough, given this deeply unequal political playing field, the  1:12 initiative has remained competitive in the opinion polls. In October, one survey had the measure in a virtual dead-heat, with 44 percent both pro and con.

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 reverse top 1 percent-friendly rule changes that have made Switzerland so much less equal over recent decades, and next steps are filling the Swiss referendum pipeline.

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Among these next steps: 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.

"We stay in close contact with them," says Cédric Wermuth, who currently serves as a member of Switzerland's federal parliament.

The Swiss  1:12  activists are also staying in close contact with leading global egalitarian thinkers. They've hosted talks in Zurich, Basel, and Bern, for instance, from the British epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson, one of the world's foremost authorities on the impact of inequality on our daily lives.

The  1:12  effort, Wilkinson told Too Much last week, has already made a major contribution -- by helping the entire world understand that businesses "do not have to be organized as systems for the undemocratic concentration of wealth and power."

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Sam Pizzigati is an  Associate Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies

Editor,  Too Much ,  an online weekly on excess and inequality

Author, The Rich Don't Always (more...)

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Social democracy rises again!... by Charles Roll on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 2:27:08 PM
If the legislation passed, multinationals could an... by Daniel Vasey on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 5:09:17 PM
This is a very important and interesting 12-1 arti... by Skineydip on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 at 9:25:14 PM
I like it, I like it, but I think 12/1 is a bit lo... by Simon R. Mayerhofer on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 12:10:50 AM
"Back in 1980 the average CEO of a major American ... by E. J. N. on Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013 at 12:39:51 PM