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'The People Need Robin Hood': Nurses Union Leads Nationwide Campaign to Force Wall Street to Pay Its Fair Share

Economists estimate that tens of billions of dollars could be raised from a tiny tax on Wall Street trades.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Alyssa Figueroa

 

Hundreds of people in 15 cities across the country rallied on June 19 to call for a “Robin Hood tax,” a small tax on financial transactions that activists and economists say could raise billions of dollars in much needed revenue and discourage risky trades on Wall Street. The rallies were the kick-off to a major campaign led by the National Nurses Union to institute the tax.

The union, the nation’s largest for nurses, says that a Robin Hood tax on speculative Wall Street transactions in stocks, bonds and currencies could raise money for health care, housing, jobs and education. The union and its allies are proposing a tax of around a half of 1 percent to be levied on Wall Street trades. Dozens of other organizations have signed onto the campaign, from the climate change group 350.org to Public Citizen to the Progressive Democrats of America. The campaign is global, with activists in countries from France to Canada pushing for a similar financial transaction tax.

In New York, 50 activists gathered in midtown Manhattan outside JP Morgan Chase’s headquarters, chanting “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” and “Hey Wall Street, you’re no good, people need Robin Hood.” Wearing Robin Hood costumes complete with green caps, the activists held up signs emphasizing that a financial transaction tax would be a “tax for the people,” rather than “on the people.” As JP Morgan employees in suits and ties walked outside for their lunch breaks, demonstrators passed out cards explaining what a Robin Hood tax was.

Activists targeted JP Morgan Chase in New York and other cities due to the recent disclosure that the bank lost $2 billion on risky derivative trades, one of the financial instruments the campaign wants to tax.

“We can fix all this today,” said Sam Aldi, a member of the National Nurses Union, as he explained to demonstrators how budget cuts have affected the quality of health care and why a new tax on Wall Street is needed. “Now is the time to give the medicine from nurses to heal this country.”

In San Francisco, about 60 upbeat protesters, mostly nurses, rallied outside JPMorgan Chase’s building. The nurses in California also sported red scrub shirts and green Robin Hood hats.

“It may seem silly, a little costume, but it’s a serious message,” nurse Maureen Dugan said. “We have to force politicians to have a spine, and empower the community to know that we can make a difference.”

The protesters in San Francisco also sang and performed a choreographed dance to “Taxing Wall Street,” their version of “Dancing in the Streets.”

“We’re not taxing them, we’re repossessing what they concentrated,” said David Solnit, a longtime organizer and activist with Occupy San Francisco. “It’s time to turn that world upside down.”

Economists estimate that tens of billions of dollars could be raised from a tax on Wall Street trades. A Robin Hood tax may also “reduce dangerous financial market speculation,” according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “Since the tax would hit high-volume, high-speed trading the hardest, it would serve to discourage short-term speculation in financial markets as well as the proliferation of ever more complex derivatives.”

It’s not just the fact that tens of billions would be raised from such a tax, activists say. The campaign also focuses on where that money should go: health care, education and jobs, a message sharply at odds with the current focus on budget austerity in the nation's capitol.

For Jennifer Flynn, a high-energy activist in full Robin Hood garb, the money raised from a financial transaction tax would be crucial to the fight against AIDS. “The Robin Hood tax could generate up to $350 billion a year. That money could not only end the AIDS epidemic, but could create the largest jobs program that any of us have ever dreamed of,” said Flynn, the managing director of Health GAP (Global Access Project), an organization that advocates for global access for HIV/AIDS treatment. “[Wall Street] is getting away with no taxes. We’re talking about a tiny, tiny tax.”

The idea for a financial transaction tax has major backing from the likes of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. A tax on financial transactions has already been implemented in 29 countries. Yet the Obama administration has opposed efforts to institute the tax. Ron Suskind's book Confidence Men reported that President Obama himself supported the tax, but was convinced that it should be abandoned by economic adviser Larry Summers.

The issue has come up in recent talks to form the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an effort to reach a major trade agreement that would institute neoliberal policies in the Asia-Pacific region. A leaked document from the secretive talks published by Public Citizen indicates that the agreement would forbid countries from instituting financial transaction taxes.

While resistance to a Robin Hood tax may be strong, activists like Bobby Tolbert say it’s crucial to fight for the tax.

A Robin Hood tax would “ensure that the grassroots of America can survive,” said Tolbert, who is on the board of VOCAL, a New York organization that advocates for low-income people. “It would discourage financial institutions from the speculative types of transactions that drove us into a financial crisis in the first place.”

Additional reporting by Alyssa Figueroa.

Alex Kane is AlterNet's New York-based World editor, and a staff reporter for Mondoweiss. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.
 
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