News / USA

Nurses, Unions Propose Wall Street Tax

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Bernard Shusman

National Nurses United, a 165,000 member union, is leading organized labor in the United States in a challenge to Wall Street, its practices, and what the nurses call Wall Street's sway over politicians.  The nurses want a new tax on almost all financial transactions to support U.S. health care.  History and practice, however, are not on their side.

The nurses came from across the United States to Wall Street to lead a national organized labor movement against what they consider the inequities of Wall Street traders and banks.  They are advocating a new fee on financial transactions that they say should be used for health care, jobs, national infrastructure and education.  

National Nurses United Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro says such a tax could raise $350 billion - money, she says, belongs to the people.

"This is a revolution to steal unfortunately, it is a revolution to steal all of our money and we are taking it back," said DeMoro.  "Americans are tired of paying taxes while Wall Street gets billions and billions and billions of dollars."

One of the nurses union co-directors, Deborah Burger, says it is time to share.

"Wall Street gets the message it is time for shared sacrifice.  They have not had any of that.  They have been making billions and trillions of profit and not given anything back to our communities," Burger said.

Why are the nurses taking the lead in this transaction tax proposal?  Diane Brady, senior editor of the magazine Bloomberg-Businessweek, has written about the nurses' movement.

"The reason the nurses are out there at the forefront is, number one, they have been very active since the whole health care debate has come up, but also a lot of other unions have been discredited," Brady explained.  "There is a nursing shortage, so they are in a position of strength.  They are not really vulnerable from a job perspective."

Brady says Sweden and Japan had to ditch such a tax after a few years.  She says the reality is that financial products more than any other products in the world are mobile, so if you add a tax in one jurisdiction all the trades will go somewhere else.  

New York University business and economics professor Joe Foudy says such a proposal has also come up in Congress during the past two years, but it is dead in the water.  

"A tax hike like this would only work if it were instituted at a global level," Foudy noted.  "If we tried to do it nationally, your biggest, greatest fear, not only would firms try to game the system, but even worse, they would try to move those transactions and with it some of those jobs abroad and so you would end up losing the tax revenues you do get from Wall Street, you would lose even more regulatory control because the same transactions would take place just in other countries with even weaker regulations."

Foudy adds there is a huge disconnect between the culture of Wall Street and the rest of the country.  The rest of the country looks at Wall Street as having helped to create the financial crisis in the United States, while people on Wall Street view this as, "It was someone who had my job four years ago and it is not my problem."  And he believes there will be rising popular anger as long as the disconnect is there.

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