Tuesday, September 15, 2009, marks the first anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, formerly the fourth largest investment bank in the US and the only major financial institution that, unlike Fanny Mae, AIG, Bear Stearns and JP Morgan – to name but a few – was not bailed out by the US government. Now occupied by Barclays, the Lehman building at New York’s 745 Seventh Avenue shows hardly any trace of last year’s turbulence. But the effects of the bankruptcy, which put more than 25,000 out of work, are still echoing around he globe.
In Germany, for example, about 40,000 security-oriented investors, among them a notable number of senior citizens were divested of their life savings. To serve their own interests and earn high commissions, many of the country’s major banks and building societies, including Citibank, Dresdner Bank, the Postbank, as well as the Frankfurt and Hamburg Sparkassen (Savings Banks), aggressively “advised” their trusting clients, many of whom had been customers for decades, to purchase the worthless Lehman paper. Which, in many cases, was pitched as a AAA security. It is unrealistic to suppose that the banks involved were not at least partially aware of the actual value of these securities at the time.
Here in Frankfurt, Germany’s financial capital, “Lehman victims” from all over the country refuse to take it lying down. To mark that gloomy day, they are gathering and going on the march to protest against their situation and disappointment at the banks, financial institutions and overall political stance. Denying all responsibility or accountability to their clients, the banks and building societies continue to entrench themselves behind individual and unsatisfactory “good will” or “ex gratia” settlements, without any admission of guilt or acknowledgement of debt – forcing their clients to take legal action. As there is no such thing as a class action suit under German law, these lawsuits are being dealt with one-at-a-time by the German courts. A long and wearisome process, the banks are dragging it out for as long as they can, possibly in the hopes that some of the plaintiffs may just pop off before getting to court.
At 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 15, dressed in black, Lehman casualties from all over the country will be gathering outside the Frankfurt District Court building. From here, the demonstrators will continue along the Zeil to Konstablerwache and the Hauptwache, to assemble outside the former Lehman Brothers branch in the Rathenauplatz. On the way, they will be stopping off at the branches of the various banks and building societies involved, to give loud voice to their frustration and discontent at their business policy. At Rathanauplatz, a mobile Information centre will be set up to explain the actual situation and demands of the Lehman victims to the public and the press. The victims are demanding a complete reversal of the Lehman transaction and full restitution, to compensate for the often proved malpractice and deliberately misleading advice supplied to them by their banking institutions.The demonstration is scheduled to wind up at approx. 5:00 p.m. following a closing event and press conference.
But this is just one activity of many. In addition to the major demonstration in Frankfurt, further regional campaigns will be taking place simultaneously in Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin. And let’s not forget the rest of the world. Small investors have suffered similarly in the US, Belgium, Austria, England, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, the UAE, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, where a demonstration is likewise planned.
One year along, the recession seems under control, the stock markets are picking up and the banks are reviving with the aid of billions of dollars of government bailouts. But the memory of Lehmans and its downfall will take a long time to diminish.