Sandy Falwell, who has worked in a neonatal intensive care unit for some 20 years, could tell plenty of stories about the impact of the Great Recession on the lives of her patients. One of the most painful: After a woman gave birth to a 2-pound baby, she told Falwell that she blamed herself for her baby’s premature birth. During her pregnancy she had been unable to afford insulin treatments for her diabetes—in part because she was taking care of her elderly parents.
Falwell is a member of National Nurses United, a union whose members come face-to-face with the fallout of the financial crisis every day. On Tuesday, they rallied on Wall Street with the message that “America has the wealth to end the despair and deprivation.”
Rose Ann DeMoro, the union’s executive director, explained: “There’s a financial transaction fee that we’re going to have Wall Street pay—they’ve paid it here in the past—it’s very American. These yo-yos who buy and sell and buy and sell our country should have to pay a tax on that.”
Such taxes place a small fee on each trade of stocks, derivatives, foreign exchange, and other financial instruments, with the goal of raising massive revenues for public needs while also discouraging reckless speculation.
The United States had a transactions tax from 1914 to 1966, which levied a 0.20 percent tax on all sales or transfers of stock. In 1932, Congress more than doubled the tax to help financial recovery and job creation during the Great Depression.
The nurses’ rally was part of a global day of action during which people in more than 35 countries demanded a tax on financial transactions. The actions were timed for the eve of a meeting of leaders of European Union nations, where the debate over such taxes is much further along than in the United States. There are high hopes that Europe will implement them in the near future, which would give a big boost to U.S. advocates.
Here are a few highlights from other countries, where many of the campaigns have taken on a “Robin Hood” theme:
For more on these actions and continued coverage of the global day of action, click here.
Back on Wall Street, Karen Higgins, a Co-President of National Nurses United told the crowd, “Around the world, we’re calling for a more fair and just economy. The finance tax we’re talking about comes from the trillions of trade of stocks and bonds sold here every day. The revenue is badly needed in our communities.”
The nurses’ union was joined on the street by a long list of other unions and organizations, including the Amalgamated Transit Union, Vocal NY, AFSCME, UNITE HERE Local 100, Community Voices Heard, Transport Workers Union Local 100, United Steam Workers, and PSC-CUNY.
A big theme of the day was that the New York rally was just the beginning of what they're hoping to be a growing movement. Minnesota nurse Jean Ross, clearly angered by the role of the financial industry in creating the current crisis, said, “Wall Street should be happy that we’re just talking about a financial transaction tax. We could be talking about restitution.”
Sarah Anderson and Marlee Blasenheim adapted this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Sarah is director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.