"Serious as a Heart Attack": RoseAnn DeMoro Explains How to Raise $350 Billion from Financial Transaction Tax

Bill talks to RoseAnn DeMoro, who heads the largest registered nurses union in the country, and will lead a Chicago march protesting economic inequality on May 18. DeMoro is championing the Robin Hood Tax, a small government levy the financial sector would pay on commercial transactions like stocks and bonds. The money generated, which some estimate could be as much as $350 billion annually, could be used for social programs and job creation — ultimately to people who, without a doubt, need it more than the banks do.

DeMoro and her organization, National Nurses United, have an inspiring history of defeating some of the toughest opponents in government and politics.

 BILL MOYERS: ... I’m always amazed that there are people out across America who still fight back. Who don’t give up, no matter the odds.

Case in point: my next guest and the powerful union she heads will lead a march fighting back against economic inequality in Chicago on May 18th. The Chicago protest is part of a growing international movement in support of what’s called the Robin Hood tax, named after the legendary English outlaw who took from the rich and gave to the poor back in the 13th Century.

The Robin Hood tax is a small government levy the financial sector would pay on commercial transactions like stocks and bonds. Supporters say it’s a tiny tax to clean up the mess the banks helped create. The money generated could be used for social programs and job creation.

As the idea has spread around the world, it’s been estimated that a Robin Hood tax could raise as much as $77 billion in the European Union countries and $350 billion a year, here in the U.S., The movement has been embraced by Germany’s Angela Merkel, Pope Benedict, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, and billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Its momentum has been bolstered by a savvy media campaign that ranges from slapstick…

BANKERS in ADVERTISEMENT: The bankers win! The bankers win! We’ve won again!

BILL MOYERS: To slickly produced videos…

MAN #1 in ADVERTISEMENT: Have you heard this idea about the Robin Hood bankers tax?

MAN #2 in ADVERTISEMENT: Yes, it’s a sweet little idea taxing the banks to help the poor, but I don’t think it would work. It’s very complicated and would be very tough on the banking sector.

MAN #1 in ADVERTISEMENT: Which has just been given billions of pounds in taxpayer monies to keep it going?

MAN #2 in ADVERTISEMENT: Well yeah, of course.

ROSEANN DEMORO: A very minimum tax could amount to at least $350 billion dollars, that could go back to our communities, that could go back to jobs, that could go back to health care.

BILL MOYERS: Here in the United States, leading the charge in support of the tax is RoseAnn DeMoro and the organization she leads, National Nurses United. It’s the largest registered nurses union in U.S. history.

And with nearly 170,000 members, it’s one of the country’s fastest growing unions. In recent years, the nurses staged some of the most organized and best-publicized campaigns for health care reform. Now they're doing the same for the Robin Hood tax with a fight they call the Main Street Campaign.

Events already have been held in Washington and on Wall Street here in New York…

The May 18th march in Chicago originally was planned to coincide with the G8 summit of the world’s most powerful nations. President Obama then decided to move that meeting to Camp David, so intentionally or not, he’ll be dodging a confrontation with RoseAnn DeMoro and her nurses. RoseAnn, welcome.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Thank you, Bill. It's so nice to be here.

BILL MOYERS: When you went to your membership and said, "I want us to get involved in taking on Wall Street. I want us to fight for the financial transaction tax," did they scratch their head and say, "What the devil is that?"

ROSEANN DEMORO: You know what, Bill? It was the most fascinating thing. They got that in a heartbeat. The people who have billions of dollars, who could make a million dollars an hour, which is, you know, Wall Street, need to give a little bit back. It's very American. It's happened before. It's not anything novel. And the nurses know that they pay tax. So when we explained that they complete got it. We did a lot of education around it. And then we fanned out into the capital.

We had a thousand nurses in Washington, D.C. last year. And we introduced the financial transaction tax. You know, there's some sophisticated things about the financial transaction tax, but frankly, all you need to know is that people in this economy are hurting. They're losing their homes. They have no health care. They've lost their jobs. Something's wrong and everyone knows it. And when you look around and you see the billions of dollars and the billionaires and the excessive wealth that's been taken out of the economy, everyone knows that.

They don't necessarily know how to speak about derivatives or stocks or all of that. But they know that those people who have those things have the money. So when we went to the capitol, two stories I'll relate very quickly.

One of the young nurses goes into one of the legislator's offices and says, you know, "We want the financial transaction tax." And this male legislator says, "Well, you nurses know a lot about financial transaction," like, you know, "What would a nurse know? Or what would a woman know?" "You nurses need to lower your expectations." And she said, "Would you like me to say that to you when I'm prepping you for surgery?" And it says the story right there, right, though, because ultimately we're talking about the life and death of people. That's what the nurses see. They see life and death. And so it's that same body that's presenting themselves to the nurse on that operating table. Those nurses see those patients in droves every single day. And they see people without hope. And they see fundamental despair. Another nurse told one of the legislators, "I don't know a lot about the financial transaction tax, but I know I pay tax on everything I buy as a working person and they should too." And that's it. They have been able to essentially, the people in the financial industry have been able to ultimately take so much money out of the economy and not even have to pay a minimum sales tax on that money. Not even a minimum.

BILL MOYERS: So how did these two congressmen respond?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Very cynically, very cynically.

BILL MOYERS: Cynically?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Yeah, what happened was that then the nurses came back together, told the stories. And of course, that enraged everyone, because that's the same experience they had in all the offices, dismissive. Our legislators have found that they can be dismissive, because labor doesn't have anywhere to go. So we decided to take the campaign to establish a Main Street Campaign to take it back to the communities and talk to real people who are losing their homes, jobs, and health care.

And say, "There is an option. We can all get together. We can fight for a financial transaction tax, this tax."

BILL MOYERS: We used to have a financial transaction tax in this country. From 1914 to 1966. Then, in 1987, at the time of another Wall Street crash, the first President Bush and Senator Bob Dole, a Republican, and several other Republicans called for restoring it. Didn't happen.

ROSEANN DEMORO: No, and there's even a financial transaction tax in the S.E.C. right now-- a small one. There's one in New York City, as well. I mean, so financial transaction tax, you know, has been here.

BILL MOYERS: There are many critics of the financial transaction tax. And they say, among other things, that the banks will simply pass the cost onto the consumer. They say that the banks -- if they have fewer trades, will let people go. There'll be unemployment on Wall Street. They say that the banks will flee, they'll go abroad, they'll go somewhere else with their business, as happened once when Sweden had a financial transaction tax, and lost a lot of trading activity. They say you're killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, I'm waiting to see the golden egg. The truth of the matter is you can fix the fleeing with regulation and with policy. That's an easy fix.

In terms of jobs, there's very few jobs actually that the financial sector hits-- it's a computerized industry. Nanosecond trading, and it's very concentrated. And that's part of their beauty, part of their scheme, right? It's basically they've created an economy onto themselves without people.

And the problem is their lobbyists and the incredible amount of money they have buy and sell our legislature. They've got enormous amounts of money. But we can win this, because we have the people with us.

BILL MOYERS: So is the campaign for financial transaction tax largely leverage you're seeking, just a means of getting the attention of the powers that be? Or are you serious about getting this $350 billion dollars from a 50 cent tax on every $100 dollars of transacting?

ROSEANN DEMORO: We're as serious as a heart attack. Can I tell you that?

BILL MOYERS: You can tell me that.

ROSEANN DEMORO: If you're going to fund social services-- we assume we need about, what $500 billion to kind of jumpstart a jobs program. There aren't real jobs left in America. We need real jobs. And we need health care. I mean, all of the things that we should have a society.

BILL MOYERS: But here's what you're up against. First of all, they're not going to take you seriously, because you are nurses. What do nurses know about Wall Street? Secondly, they're going to say that, you know, the banks will find a way to circumvent this tax, pass it on to the consumers.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Isn't that amazing? Isn't it amazing how bad our thinking is in this country? That people who have billions of dollars, who could make a million dollars an hour, which is, you know, Wall Street. That they shouldn't have to pay 50 cents on $100 dollars of trade? I mean, that's just-- it shows how far we-- afield we've come from where we need to be as a society.

Because otherwise, what we're going to be is, you know, have this kind of industrial peasantry in this country. And I mean, that's where this could go if something doesn't change pretty dramatically. What I can't understand is why our legislators-- they know there's a problem.

I don't know what they think, how they think we're going to solve the problem. You know, there's a deficit created by speculation. And all of a sudden working people are supposed to pay for the deficit, that's the rallying cry? Like a deficit that working people didn't cause, that that's the priority of this country to resolve a deficit caused by Wall Street rather than job creation?

BILL MOYERS: But, you know, I don't know anyone who understands the castle better from the battering ram side than you. You've been out there with a battering ram for a long time. Trying to change Washington is virtually an impossible task, because of the entrenched, systemic corruption by which the town now runs.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutely. The current way we practice politics, we are headed for devastation. I would agree with that. The only way we can do that is by changing ourselves. I'm very tired of all of us being disappointed in Democrats. I mean, okay, how many more Democrats can we be disappointed in? I-- we have got to change ourselves. We have got to-- that's why I like the Occupy movement.

And hoping that it, you know, moves with structure and reform. And I'd say, you know, kind of non-reformist reforms. Like the financial transaction tax, because what that does is it starts having a different view on speculation and what's a responsibility to society. But Occupy is extremely important to us, because it actually doesn't buy into the fact that we're all in this together.

We have been in this we're all in this together bubble fantasy for so long. I mean, you know, things were supposed to trickle down. And then all of a sudden, we were supposed to be part of some bubble up. And I mean, it's just everything's trickling, but it's trickling up.

BILL MOYERS: But suppose you get the $350 billion. What if it's spent on bombing Iran?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, precisely. We're not earmarking the money. We're not saying, "Okay, we want $350 billion. And this part should go to health care and this part should go to education." What we're saying is that part of the process of obtaining the financial transaction tax is the movement itself.

Because if we can engage people to actually engage the legislators-- I mean we have to continually hold them accountable. We can never give our power away. And we can never buy into the lies that have been told to us for so long. I mean, I don't even recognize, you know, liberals anymore. I don't even—

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, they will invariably be apologetic for anything that comes down. In health care reform, liberals, we want single payer. We absolutely want single payer. And then suddenly single payer was off the table. Even the president said at one point in time he supported a single payer system. Boy, you never hear those words anymore.

Then everyone said, "Okay, well, we're you know, we're drawing the line on the public option. We will never ever compromise off the public option." All of a sudden public option's gone. And then it came to an individual mandate. "We will never agree to tax, you know, workers benefits. We'll never agree to tax our health care benefits." And now all of a sudden liberals are rallying around taxing health care benefits. It's like how low can you go? So I have, for myself and hopefully for a lot of other people, I'm looking at a stage now for absolutes. There's got to be—

BILL MOYERS: Absolutes?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Absolutes. There's going to be—

BILL MOYERS: In politics, a game of compromise, you're looking for absolutes?

ROSEANN DEMORO: There you know, we've made the compromises. Look where these compromises have got us. Do I think that there's an absolute right for people to have health care in this country? Absolutely. Absolutely. Do I think people are entitled to work and provide for themselves and their families? Absolutely. That's an absolute.

Do I think that people should have a home to live in and to be able to care for the most vulnerable? Absolutely. Yes, I'm looking for absolutes. I'm not interested in the neo-liberal agenda. I'm not interested in bipartisanship. I'm interested in social change that actually puts society back with the people.

ROSEANN DEMORO: We have to start all over, in terms of how we do politics. Right now—

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

ROSEANN DEMORO: We have to engage people in their communities to actually elect the people and tell those people what we want and tell them we will un-elect them if they don't fulfill the needs of their community.

BILL MOYERS: Now you're talking about a mass movement there.

ROSEANN DEMORO: I'm talking about an absolute mass movement.

BILL MOYERS: Because after the election, we both know that after the election, no matter how the voters have expressed themselves, it's the donors who decide what the—


BILL MOYERS: --incumbents do when they get into office. We know that.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Invariably what happens is the groups are called into the White House. And they're told, "No." And then they come back and they tell the coalition, "No." And then everyone's cutting side deals. And there's no actual social movement.

What I like about Occupy is that a lot of groups tried to coopt it, and it stayed its own course. And we've got to have Occupy with a political-- you know, strategic decisions that are actually going to push the agenda for the American people. Revolt is a good one, because ultimately revolt gets a lot of attention. But we also have to be on the demand side. And we've got to be able to reach everyday people who are actually out there struggling. And give them hope.

BILL MOYERS: The paradox, RoseAnn, is that you're calling for more public action—


BILL MOYERS: --for more public policy, for more government, at a time when there's a growing powerful conservative movement that says government is the problem.

ROSEANN DEMORO: We want to have the corollary to that on the other side. Where we're actually inspiring people toward a better vision for society, for hope, for a social movement that they can engage in, that's not the politics of hatred, that's not the politics of fear, but the politics of hope. Now to do that, we are going to tap the anger, because people should be angry. So we want to validate the anger, but not take it in a reactionary way. But a way that's actually life affirming.

BILL MOYERS: Have you had any indirect or direct response from the White House to your campaign for the financial transaction tax?

ROSEANN DEMORO: We have from the White House precisely what-- I can't say from the White House, in all honesty. We have with the legislators precisely what happened to us in single payer. We had the financial transaction tax. We talked to the author of the bill, who'd done it twice before, in-- in Congress. And asked him to reintroduce it again. And said that we were going to build a movement around it. He said, "Great, you know, wonderful."

And all of a sudden, they came up with this tiny transaction tax which is effectively not much for deficit reduction, earmarked for deficit reduction. And so we were just astounded. And so what they told us-- this is the same thing. This is the same speech of "You nurses need to lower your expectations. Well, we have to introduce the concept first."

Well, the concept first of all is there. It has been introduced in America. We've had it historically in America, as you pointed out. We have it in New York. We have it in the S.E.C. We don't need the concept. We have the concept. What we need is the money to jumpstart this economy.

But I think what they want to do is to make sure that they're assuring Wall Street that it won't actually hurt. The same thing is as what's happened in health care reform.

BILL MOYERS: I ask this next question, knowing that within the world of labor leadership, you have your own politics. The AF of L-CIO, just recently endorsed Barack Obama for reelection. You're on the executive committee of the AF of L-CIO. Did you vote for endorsing Obama?

ROSEANN DEMORO: No, I didn't go to the meeting.


ROSEANN DEMORO: We haven't taken a position on Barack Obama. Our nurses worked so hard the last time on his campaign. They worked for months. I mean, people left their homes. They were excited. You know, they actually believed in his candidacy. They thought that he meant what he said when he actually supported single payer. And all we needed to do was get him there.

But we made a tremendous mistake. I mean, as a country, as the nurses, everyone. And that is he said, "You need to push me." Well, no one pushed him, except for the right, and except for Wall Street. We didn't push Barack Obama. In fact, we had the liberal groups who were yelling at anyone who stepped out of line to get in line.

So now we're in a situation that we, in part, helped create. That's the dilemma here. You can't solve the problem without changing the way you do your own work. And so this isn't about Barack Obama. We are in a process of figuring out if we're even going to endorse legislators this year, because it’s so bad.

BILL MOYERS: But let me tell you what some of your liberal and progressive allies in Washington are saying. "Look me in the eye, they say, and tell me that you're going to stand by with 170,000 powerful fighters out there for social justice and see Romney replace Barack Obama?" That's what they're saying. That's not—

ROSEANN DEMORO: Of course they would say that. And that's a reality. That's the politics of today. And so for us, you know, whether or not we endorse Barack Obama or whomever is pretty much irrelevant. I don't-- yes, it's true. We're an activist organization. We have a phenomenal amount of power. We have a disproportionate amount of power, relative to where we are. Because it's not just our members. We have, you know, we have millions of nurses who relate to us organizationally.

BILL MOYERS: It is. It's a tough union.


BILL MOYERS: You in fact, I watched with incredulous eyes, when you actually took on Schwarzenegger, a very popular Republican celebrity governor.


BILL MOYERS: And you helped bring him down.

ROSEANN DEMORO: We did. We did. Actually, you know, his Waterloo was when he said in front of a woman's conference, "I kick nurse's butts."

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: Pay no attention to those voices over there, by the way. Those are the special interests, if you know what I mean. The special interests just don’t like me in Sacramento because I’m always kicking their butt.

That’s why they don’t like me.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, we put that shoe on the other foot. And we—

BILL MOYERS: Why did he say that?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Because well, first of all, because he's Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was above it all. But again, the way we practice politics. He became governor. Everyone thought it was more important to get his autograph than to actually hold him accountable for the policy. And so, what happened was he decided to-- nurses have patient ratios in California, which is a phenomenal law.

He decided to roll that back. And then he wanted to meet with us. And we said, "No, we're you know, leave that legislation alone or we're not meeting with you." Well, he attempted to roll it back. We set out on a campaign. And I'll tell you, we took his popularity from up here to down here. And he never regained his popularity again. He was so shocked and off of his game that he thought that, you know, he could just be dismissive of just about everyone. He was Hollywood. He was the governor. He was above it all. And you know what—

BILL MOYERS: He was the Terminator.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER in Terminator: I’ll be back.

ROSEANN DEMORO: He was the Terminator. He was the Terminator. But, you know what, it shows you the power of these nurses. Right there, right there, it tells you how much power they actually have. When a nurses speaks, the legislators know that a nurse can be a very scary person. And for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislators certainly know that. When Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to take on the nurses, I swear the legislators were like, "Oh my God."

BILL MOYERS: I don't want to put you on the spot, but well, I do want to put you on the spot. Why doesn't all of organized labor have that today? You know, I know that organized labor has been anemic. It's been under fire, of course, for 30 years. There’s been a strong conservative business campaign to make them impotent in our society. And they've largely succeeded. But there's a pathology in the union movement that has contributed to its own anemic—


BILL MOYERS: What is it? What's happened?

ROSEANN DEMORO: I think it's class shame. You know, in the last 30 years, everyone was supposed to be middle class. Working class was a bad thing. To be from the working class was you know, no one was from-- even labor uses that. You know, you working families. They don't say the working class and they don't say working people.

Everyone says middle class or working families, and you're supposed to have disdain for the working class. They bought into the paradigm, to where they became vulnerable to middle class consultants who redefined what they were supposed to be. So, I had one of the major labor leaders who has since left come to me one day 12 years ago or so and say, "We went through this consultant training and oh, you could learn so much from it."

And he said, "The thing that you could learn the most is non-confrontational language." And I thought, "Well, why in the hell would I want to do that?" You know, I mean, not be confrontational? There are people out there who are trying to harm my members, working people, poor people, and I don't want to confront them? Of course I want to confront them.

What it told me was that fighting became actually defined as something that was pathological. And the labor movement bought in. And why in the world the labor movement would buy in, I don't know.

BILL MOYERS: Assuming you will retire one day, do you have a bucket list of what you'd like to accomplish before you retire?

ROSEANN DEMORO: Yes. And it has things that are fundamental and things that we've been working on, all of our lives. And that is a just society, health care for all, taking money out of politics, of course. Jobs. Good paying jobs in America. Pride in being an American. Although I will say that we're working on the global scene, and the opportunities to actually have one world and one people, and even though that sounds pie in the sky are presenting itself in a way for the first time that I've seen in my life.

Because the financial transaction tax is seen by all of our allies internationally as a way of addressing the economy of the world. And that's why it's not the financial transaction tax in and of itself, it's the reconceptualization of what we should be as a society of people.

I am really sick of the people who are apologists for finance. From my perspective, and it may sound simplistic, but working people built this country. And you know what, Bill, if we have to, we can build it again.

BILL MOYERS: I can see you're going to have to postpone your retirement for lord knows how long.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Well, you can be my role model for it.

BILL MOYERS: Thank you, RoseAnn DeMoro, for being with me.

ROSEANN DEMORO: Thank you so much.

BILL MOYERS: Joining RoseAnn DeMoro and the nurses at their Chicago march and rally on May 18 will be the rock star activist Tom Morello -- who just happens to be my guest on next week’s edition of Moyers & Company. Tom Morello came to fame 20 years ago as the lead guitarist in Rage Against the Machine. Some of you will know Rage as one of the most successful and political rock bands of the nineties. And one of the most controversial. When the group disbanded, Tom Morello became a one-man revolution: a troubadour singing songs of protest across the land from the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol…


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