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'Tax Timmy's Friends': Nurses Follow Obama to France Demanding He Tax Geithner's Wall Street Cronies

The nurses' union takes the movement for a financial transaction tax to the G-20 in Cannes.

Nurses from around the world will rally in four cities today, November 3, with one demand: A financial transaction tax to discourage speculation and fund economic recovery.

In San Francisco, they’ll march from a Federal Reserve Bank to Wells Fargo headquarters. In Los Angeles, they’ll march from Occupy LA to U.S. Bank. In Washington D.C., they’ll march on the Treasury Department, then lobby Congress. And in Cannes, France, nurses from four continents will rally at the G-20 Summit, which is hosting the leaders of major world economies -- including transaction tax holdout Barack Obama.

Today’s actions are spearheaded by National Nurses United, the largest American nurses’ union, with backing from the AFL-CIO, Oxfam, the World Wildlife Fund, and two international union federations: Public Services International and the International Trade Union Confederation. The FTT is expected to be a major topic of discussion at the G-20 summit, having gained the support of German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy -- both influential conservative heads of state. In the United States, the 170,000-member NNU has been pushing for the tax for months; its campaign has included June demonstrations outside the Chamber of Commerce and the New York Stock exchange and a national “Tax Wall Street” day of action September 1.

NNU co-president and 37-year nursing veteran Karen Higgins says she and her co-workers “see the fallout” of a broken economy on a daily basis at work. “We’ve been watching patients coming in sicker because they can’t afford health insurance, or they have health insurance but they can’t they can’t afford the co-pays, or they can’t afford the test...So what happens is they get sicker, and we see things that could have been preventable that now are not.”

Higgins has also seen an increase in stress-induced afflictions among young people in the current economy. Rather than asking further sacrifice from the unemployed and working poor, NNU wants to make Wall Street pay to repair what it broke.

The logic of the transaction tax is two-fold: First, it’s an austerity alternative – it raises revenue from those wealthy enough to have large sums of money to move around the stock market. NNU estimates that a modest tax could raise $350 billion a year. Second, it discourages gambling by the 1 percent that messes up the economy for the rest of us. “High-frequency trading would no longer be lucrative for a lot of firms, and that would definitely be a positive impact," says AFL-CIO spokesperson Heather Slavkin. “It could have a regulatory as well as fiscal impact by deterring unhelpful bad activity by Wall Street banks.”  

Taxing each transaction means that putting your money somewhere and leaving it there incurs far less taxes than the minute-by-minute speculative trades that create no value but drive up costs and distort our economy. “There are a lot of people that are getting very rich,” says economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “who are basically just shuffling assets back and forth…contributing nothing to the economy.” He adds, “I’m hard-pressed to think of a better way” to raise revenue.

The political logic is perhaps even simpler. Occupy Wall Street has achieved astounding success in part because it chose the right target, and focused on who wrecked our economy and who should have to pay for it. Slavkin says OWS has been "hugely helpful” in building political momentum for a transaction tax. Calling for “shared sacrifice” and threatening social insurance while refusing to tax Wall Street gambling should be a huge liability for politicians of either party. But it hasn’t become one, in part because Obama and Republicans are both doing it.