National Nurses United, Local Labor Groups Say Protest Show Will Go On After G8 Switch

Kari Lydersen

Labor groups and other protesters declared a victory with the announcement Monday that Chicago will not host the global G8 summit May 18-19. Apparently even Mayor Rahm Emanuel was taken by surprise when the White House announced the summit will instead be held at Camp David, reportedly for a more intimate” atmosphere. The NATO summit scheduled May 20-21 will still be held in Chicago, and both police and protesters have said their plans remain basically unchanged. Thousands of protesters from around the world are expected, including a significant labor contingent.

A major organizer is National Nurses United (NNU), the world’s largest nurses union, which represents nurses at Chicago’s public hospital and the University of Chicago. NNU spokesman Chuck Idelson said the union will continue its planned events in Chicago targeting the G8 and calling for a worldwide tax on financial trades, with the revenue to be used for reviving economies gutted by the global economic crisis. Idelson told In These Times:

These austerity programs are not reserved for Europe or other G8 countries — we see them at home in the U.S. as well… Our nurses see it every day — they see it with patients who have lost their jobs and their homes, who are having to choose between paying a medical bill or feeding their family. They see people increasingly postponing lifesaving or life-prolonging medical care. We need for that to be the top focus of the elected officials of this country and certainly the G8 leaders.

Meanwhile, Chicago labor and community groups are taking a more local approach. After the G8 switch announcement, the Grassroots Collaborative called on the group World Business Chicago (the NATO summit’s host committee”) to invest the $65 million that had been raised for the summits in a $100 million fund for community development and job creation. A press release after the collaborative’s demonstration outside World Business Chicago Tuesday morning said the money should be put towards creating neighborhood safety jobs, such as parent patrols, vacant property night watchmen, and summer jobs for youth.”

Stand Up! Chicago issued a statement Wednesday reiterating their demand that a matching fund for community development be created that is equal to the amount the host committee raises for the summit. Both the Grassroots Collaborative and Stand Up! Chicago are coalitions of community and labor groups, including SEIU Local 73, the Chicago Teachers Union and the American Friends Service Committee.

While NATO makes a less appropriate target than the G8 for protests of economic inequality and corporate malfeasance, Stand Up! Chicago policy analyst Elizabeth Parisian told me that it is not so much the global organizations themselves but rather the priorities and expenditures revealed by and related to the summits which Chicago protesters aim to highlight. She said:

Our biggest concerns have always been how this will impact our cities. Although there are plenty of reasons to want to protest what NATO and G8 do or have done, our concern is what it’s going to cost our city and where that money could be better spent. 

It’s the whole idea that the city and corporations claim there’s no money to fund services that actually help the 99 percent in Chicago, then when three days worth of summits come around these corporations have plenty of money to donate.

The debate around the summits evokes controversy over Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, when boosters argued that the global exposure would bring more investment, tourism and jobs to the city, while critics feared the Games would leave Chicago in debt, disrupt life and work for regular residents and cause displacement of low-income communities. 

Supporters of the May summits describe them as an important step in Chicago’s becoming a true global city,” ultimately helping to stimulate the economy and create more jobs. Critics say the summits will cost taxpayers millions and will have little lasting economic impact. 

Parisian said community members of Stand Up! Chicago fear an adverse economic impact from the NATO summit, since road closures and security concerns will mean businesses closed, possible cuts in hourly work and less revenue for small businesses if people stay home to avoid potential conflict. 

Parisian told me:

There’s the argument that NATO provides us a chance to showcase our city, but our analysis shows any showcasing will be in a small radius downtown. Visiting dignitaries are not going to be touring Chicago’s neighborhoods. Most businesses are going to see a loss, especially small and medium-sized businesses. Any showcasing will be showcasing the one percent.

The NNU website explains the financial transaction tax (FTT) or Robin Hood” tax that labor groups have called for worldwide:

Over the past year, NNU has sponsored large actions, calling on Congress to tax Wall Street with a robust FTT on the trading of stocks, bonds, currencies, derivatives, and other financial instruments that the nurses say could raise $350 billion every year. The funds would then be available for essential needs, such as creating jobs, and investing in healthcare, education, and housing.

Local protest organizers had received permits for marches during the G8 meeting May 18-19; now they are deciding how to deal with the NATO meeting two days later. Parisian said Stand Up! Chicago and its labor members will be heavily involved though they are not primary organizers of the protests.

The NNU will still hold a public forum and march on March 18, which is endorsed by labor groups including the AFL-CIO, Health Gap (Global Action Project), National Union of Public and General Workers Unions of Canada, the Amalgamated Transit Union, European Federal of Public Services Unions, Public Services International, and the National Federation of Canadian Nurses Unions.

The NNU has reserved rooms for 500 at a downtown Sheraton during the protests, according to Sun-Times gossip columnist Michael Sneed, who added that President Obama was expected to stay at the same hotel. Idelson says that the Obama administration or city officials should explain why the G8 was moved so late in the game:

It certainly has the appearance of running and hiding. When you leave a major city that in many ways is a poster child for the economic crisis and run off to hide in the woods of rural Maryland, that doesn’t send a message that the G8 leaders are listening to the public.

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Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based journalist, author and assistant professor at Northwestern University, where she leads the investigative specialization at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. Her books include Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.

Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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