Nurses tell Wall Street: It’s time you make some sacrifices

Dressed in red tee shirts and carrying signs that read, “Heal America, Tax Wall Street,” about 1,000 members of National Nurses United and their supporters gathered on the steps of the Federal Hall across the street from the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street to demand that financial speculators be taxed to help finance an economic recovery that can provide good-paying jobs, health care, a secure retirement, freedom from hunger, and a safe environment for all working people.

“It’s very American. Just like working people pay taxes on all of their purchases. These corporate speculators who buy and sell and buy and sell our country should pay a minimum tax on that,” RoseAnn DeMoro, NNU executive director. “A very minimum tax could amount to at least $350 billion every year that can go back to our communities and go back to jobs and go back to health care.”

The demonstration was part of NNU’s nationwide Main Street Contract for the American People’s campaign, which seeks to reshape the nation’s economic and political priorities. (In a related note, the Marquette County Labor Council, a chapter of the Michigan State AFL-CIO, last week became the first labor council in the US to endorse NNU’s Main Street Contract campaign.)

While the nurses and their supporters were holding their rally on Wall Street, similar rallies were taking place at 35 locations throughout Europe and the rest of the world during the International Day of Action for a Financial Transaction Tax. As the rallies were taking place, Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, said that he would propose a Europe-wide tax on financial transactions such as the trading of stocks, bonds, derivatives, options, and other speculative activity.

Such a tax would “ensure that financial institutions make a fair and substantive contribution” to alleviating some of the problems caused by the current debt crisis, Barroso said.

Writing in Counter Punch in 2009, Dean Baker observed that a small financial transaction tax would not only raise significant amounts of revenue that could be put to good use restoring the health of the US economy, it could make the allocation of capital more efficient:

A small increase in trading costs would be a very manageable burden for those who are using financial markets to support productive economic activity. However, it would impose serious costs on those who see the financial markets as a casino in which they place their bets by the day, hour, or minute. Speculators who hope to jump into the market at 2:00 and pocket their gains by 3:00 would be subject to much greater risk if they had to pay even a modest financial transaction tax.

Similarly, the financial engineers who specialize in constructing complex financial instruments may find an FTT (financial transaction tax) to be a nuisance. An FTT could cause their derivative instruments to be taxed at several points. For example, the trade of an option on a stock would be taxed, as would the purchase of the stock itself if the option was exercised. More complex derivatives could be subject to the tax many times over, substantially reducing the potential profits from complexity.

At the nurses demonstration on Wall Street, speakers pointed out that those who caused the financial crisis that left millions unemployed, drove millions into poverty, and left many more on the brink of poverty got bailed out by the US government when their risky speculations caused markets to implode. Then they turned around and demanded sacrifice from the working class to help pay for their bailout and to protect them from future losses.

“It’s time for (Wall Street’s) shared sacrifice”, said NNU leader Deborah Burger. “(Wall Street) haven’t had any of that. They have been making billions and trillions in profit and not giving anything back to our communities.”

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