CHICAGO — In the labor movement’s main contribution to protests at NATO’s meeting in Chicago this weekend, a thousand members of the National Nurses Union — joined by several thousand supporters — rallied Friday on behalf of their campaign to “heal America.” They urged governments around the world to tax financial sector speculation, which caused the ongoing crisis, and use the proceeds to preserve and expand government’s role in reducing inequality, providing for health and other public needs, and creating a healthy economy with full employment.
Overcoming efforts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to prohibit their demonstration in the central Daley Plaza, the NNU called for implementation of a tiny tax on financial transactions, like stock and derivative sales, that would yield many billions of dollars to reverse the austerity budgets imposed at all levels of government and to increase spending on health care, education, infrastructure and vital public services and investments.
NNU originally planned its actions to target both the G-8 and NATO leaders, drawing attention to the financial transaction tax (FTT) – what NNU calls a “Robin Hood tax” – as an international issue. “We wanted to let the world leaders know that this is one of the policies that could put the world economy back on its feet,” said Karen Higgins, co-president of NNU. “Everyone else pays a sales tax, and these high-end financiers should have a tax on their sales.”
As the one sector of the labor force that has grown even during the recession, healthcare workers, like nurses, may seem improbable militants in the fight for jobs. “But we don’t stop at the door of where we’re employed,” Higgens said. “It doesn’t matter if I have a job, I see people who come in very sick and are not taking their medicine because they can’t afford it.”
Adapting stories sent in by nurses, actor-activist Anna Deavere Smith, currently featured in the cable TV series, Nurse Jackie, re-created for the nurses’ gathering the personas of nurses and patients stretched to the breaking point under the current health care system, under conditions worsened by the recession.
At the rally, nurses in Robin Hood attire – red shirts and green caps – filled the stage and helped discover the real G-8 meeting in a woods – the Camp David Resort and Casino. There, under the guidance of a powerful, rich financier, the impersonated G-8 leaders placed their bets on the world’s economic future – Britain cracking down on the working class and privatizing its National Health Service, Canada betting its single-payer health insurance,
Putin offering all of Russia and its natural resources. Only the new French socialist premier Francois Hollande hesitated, but the banker running the casino assured the other leaders that eventually he, too, would come around.
Longtime progressive political leader Tom Hayden picked up the Robin Hood theme, recalling how the original Robin Hood had taken to the woods with war-weary veterans after a crusade in the Middle East and fought a government that had squandered the nation’s wealth on war.
Maid Marian was a nurse, Friar Tuck the Berrigan brothers, the merry men precursors of the LGBT movement, Hayden said, and the minstrel was named Morello – like Tom Morello, the singer formerly with Rage Against the Machine, who took the stage with his guitar inscribed “whatever it takes,” in an oblique tribute to Woody Guthrie. With songs from Guthrie (including the rarely sung, more radical verses of This Land Is Your Land), Springsteen, and his own works. Exhorting the audience to political action, Morello quite literally had the crowd jumping.
The AFL-CIO endorsed the NNU protest, which drew small delegations from local members from the Steelworkers, Machinists, AFSCME and other unions but was not, except for the nurses,primarily a labor demonstration.
As part of actions around the world for an FTT timed to coordinate with the G-8 meeting, representatives from seven countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany and Korea, told the nurses of their own campaigns for an FTT and encouraged the fledgling U.S. effort. Jorg
Kalinski, Oxfam Germany’s director of lobbying and campaigns told NNU that the world needed the FTT in part to help poorer countries develop, in part as a “question of democracy.”
“Politicians can’t afford to fail again” in controlling the financial sector so that it helps, rather than crushes, “the real economy,” Kalinksi said. “The FTT is a tax for the people that creates social justice, jobs and growth.” With even parts of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government supporting an FTT, various individual countries or a region could enact the tax relatively soon, he said, “and then we’ll help you with your cause.”
NNU leaders and activists, like Martha Kuhl of Oakland, CA, are ready for the fight. “I want to take part in something,” she said, ” that will heal America and not just my patients.”
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David Moberg, a former senior editor of In These Times, was on staff with the magazine from when it began publishing in 1976 until his passing in July 2022. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy.