On Wednesday afternoon, June 22, a feisty group of 3,000 nurses, and their supporters from other unions and community groups, rallied at Federal Hall on Wall St. in New York City to confront the greedy banking industry and demand they pay tiny taxes on financial transactions to stop devastating budget cuts and finance health care for all.
In solidarity with the 40-nation International Days of Action, National Nurses United and their union and community allies--including the AFL-CIO, the UAW, The Transit Workers Union, UNITE HERE Local 100, Working Families Party, Jobs with Justice, NYPIRG, and many more--used powerful speeches, spirited stories, skits, and songs to bring attention to their Main Street Contract, a vision for a more fair and just economy. It includes as a centerpiece a bill supporters will soon introduce in Congress to tax the very transactions that led to the economic crisis.
It's always fun to be at a rally with the nurses, who are unique in American labor for their enormous spirit, rollicking sense of humor, and some of the most creative and radical analyses of the failures of the U.S. system. The nurses don't mess around. They set a high standard for the American labor movement, challenging power and engaging the public with their spirited take on American politics, the rights of workers, and especially the needs of people who use the country's health care system. The nurses are about protecting their patients as well as themselves, and America trusts and has enormous respect for its nurses, which enables the 170,000 National Nurses United to spread the word in ways that other unions are more challenged.
The nurses understand and can give witness to how the decline of the American dream in the current wretched economy is hugely impacting society. "America's nurses see and feel broad declines in health and living standards for their patients and their own families that are directly tied to the collapse in jobs, housing , health care, and other basics of what used to be called the American dream," said NNU co-president Deborah Burger, RN. "Nurses are calling for a change in priorities because they have seen enough and want to stop the bleeding now. "
And the nurses are seeing a lot that can be directly linked to the prolonged economic decline. Their message: because the economic crisis is linked to a rise in health problems, the Wall Street bankers must also pay for the ailments they have provoked. Health conditions caused by the poor economy include stress-induced heart problems in younger patients, diabetes in children due to unhealthy diets, and anxiety and depression across all age groups as parents and children alike wonder if they will be able to afford a roof over their head or food on the table.
The executive director of NNU, Rose Ann DeMoro, is outraged. "America has the wealth to end despair and deprivation. To reclaim this nation we have to start by making Wall Street pay to undo the damage that has caused immeasurable suffering, while the high rollers on Wall Street, who created this crises are rewarded with bailouts, bonuses, tax cuts, and regulatory rollbacks."
To remedy the budget crisis and its impact on Americans, organizers are pushing for a small fee on the trading of bonds, options, credit default swaps, futures, and derivatives to save crucial social programs from falling victim to the impact of Wall Street’s missteps. Organizers say the tax could generate $350 billion a year.
The equivalent of the sales tax “Main Street” Americans have long been paying, the tax is not a new idea. Great Britain has already implemented a .25 percent tax on each stock trade, and it has not inhibited financial activity. The European Parliament also endorsed a tax for European Union nations. In the U.S., measures to tax all stock sales and transfers have been underway for the past fifty years and, after the 1987 Wall Street crash, U.S. politicians including Bob Dole and President George H.W. Bush endorsed similar measures.
“Just like working people pay taxes, these yo-yos who buy and sell, buy and sell, should pay taxes on that,” said President of Amalgamated Transit Union Larry Hamley.
During the rally, there were were frequent skits to shed light on the deplorable status of our country with (a very sick) Lady Liberty. “I need relief. I can’t walk and I need to know why -- why I have no health care, why I have no health insurance,” said the green-clad woman.
“You’re sick because here in New York City, the richest city in the country, we are having one of the most drastic cuts in the budget ever,” said Ilya Geller of Bloombergville, who listed 6,000 teachers, 20 fire houses, $50 million in child care, $40 million in senior services, and $90 million in libraries as casualties to the budget cuts.
Local organizers who are fighting budget cuts at the City and State level were in full support of the goals of the rally. “We’re here to let the governor, the mayor, and the U.S. Government know they need to stop taking essential services, like supportive housing and the Medicare system, out of the community. People are going to die when they make these cuts. We know where the money is. The money is here on Wall Street,” said Wayne Starks of grassroots organization VOCAL-NY, who asks Bloomberg, “Do you care more about making the rich richer or saving lives?”
Speakers shared stories which painted a picture of the devastation Wall Street facilitated without bearing any responsibility. A son told the story of his father, a multiple sclerosis patient, whose insurance company said the medication that would allow him to use his hands was unnecessary. A nurse spoke of a friend whose monthly treatment of the homeless population rose from 1,500 to 3,000 people.
A soulful rally, organizers sang “This Little Light of Mine” with new, appropriate lyrics like “Heal America, Tax Wall Street” and “We Are The World.”
Speakers went further to discuss the lack of compassionate care in the revenue-focused medical community.
“A young mother in the Emergency Room is worried her baby has meningitis. She faces business men who ask ‘Would you like to make your co-pay now or later?’ That’s the kind of compassionate service we don’t have in the health care system. That,” said, Co-President of National Nurses United Gene Ross, “we can’t even call a health care system.”