National Nurses United Take the Lead for Taxing the Rich

Mark Vorpahl
Mark Vorpahl

The following report of a rally in Chicago supporting the “Robin Hood Tax,” led by National Nurses United, provides a small glimpse of the potential power that a union allied with the community can wield. The “Robin Hood Tax” is a tax-the-rich measure that would collect 25 to 50 cents for every $100 in value of stock, bond, and dividend trades as well as other financial transactions made by Wall Street. As the article notes, it is estimated that such a tax on financial speculation could raise $350 billion a year to prevent cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, as well as fund desperately needed social services and a jobs program. The effect of this measure would be to start making Wall Street pay for the crisis it has created rather than leave all the sacrificing to the 99%. Since the top 1% has snatched up 93 percent of the so-called recovery while the recession continues for working people, this is the only course that is both minimally fair and economically feasible.

The AFL-CIO and Change to Win need to get behind this measure as well other more aggressive tax-the-rich measures by mobilizing their own membership and potential supporters, such as Occupy, in an effort to pack the streets with an undeniable show of mass power. National Nurses United can help to spearhead this by advocating it within the larger labor movement. If such an effort is taken in earnest, it could bring out hundreds of thousands if not millions. However, in order to succeed, labor must avoid connecting this action with a get-out-the-vote for the Democrats campaign since that will inspire few and turn off many.

Roseane Demaro, Executive Director of National Nurses United, recently stated in an interview with Real News:

“We actually have to change the way we do politics I could go on and on about how disappointing Democrats are but the truth of the matter is both parties have failed this country, we need a people’s movement that elects people, puts them in office and holds them accountable, that’s what we’re more interested in, grassroots populist nurses all the other people represent a movement and magnitude that this country hasn’t seen in many many years.”

The hundreds of millions of dollars the unions spend to get Democrats elected have completely failed in changing the political climate towards solutions that benefit workers. The growing inequalities in wealth between the rich and the working class during the past three decades have proved the bankruptcy of this approach. On the other hand, the mass grass roots efforts of Occupy, when it exploded into a Main Street movement, have transformed the political dialogue on a national scale. Members’ dues get more bang for the buck when the money is spent on independent organizing and independent political action than when it is spent on electing corporate politicians from either party with their soon forgotten promises.

[Editor’s note: This introduction was revised to include the above Roseane Demoro quote.]

Link to Roseane Demaro interview:

Nurses Bring Robin Hood to Chicago More than 3,000 nurses and activists gathered at Daley Plaza in Chicago Friday to rock out with musician Tom Morello and call for a tax on financial speculation — a Robin Hood tax. This small sales tax on Wall Street trades could raise up to $350 billion a year in the U.S., money that American communities desperately need. It’s time for Wall Street to start paying what all the rest of us pay,” Karen Higgins, RN, told a cheering crowd, many wearing red nurse scrubs and green Robin Hood caps. Higgins, who works as a registered nurse in Boston, is co-president of National Nurses United, the country’s largest registered nurses’ union, which organized the rally. As nurses, they see how the economy is hurting families and communities across the country. They understand the suffering Americans face every day – in healthcare, foreclosure, jobs, and education. I’ve been a nurse for 38 years and I have never seen our communities in such disarray and in such suffering as I have in the last couple of years,” said Deborah Burger, RN, and NNU co-president. They got us into this mess and they have the money to bail us out. Indeed they do– almost a quarter of the nation’s GDP – close to $4 trillion – sits in corporate coffers, the largest cash hoard in U.S. history. We are here to protest all the people that are taking all the money out of our economy,” said Jean Ross, RN, and co-president of NNU. “We the 99 percent know what it’s about. We set an alarm. We work for a living. We don’t sit by a swimming pool and wait for our dividends to come in. More than 100 organizations of community, environmental, labor, and health groups from around the world endorsed the event. RoseAnn DeMoro, NNU’s executive director, thanked everyone for being there and gave a special shout-out to Occupy protesters. “To all the community groups, the political groups, the non-profit groups that came out to support us — bless you,” DeMoro said. “It’s your voices that are going to make a difference in this country. Also speaking at the rally was Tom Hayden, student activist during Chicago’s 1968 protests. The rally ended with a performance by music legend Morello, who played with bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, and is also known for his acoustic music as The Nightwatchman. It’s an honor to be here today in my hometown of Chicago with the nurses union. I want to thank them for standing up for free speech, for standing up for economic justice, and standing up for me,” he said. Morello’s reference was to a standoff between the nurses and the City of Chicago over a permit to assemble in Daley Plaza. The city changed the permit last week that would move the rally away from downtown Chicago. After nurses and the community protested, the city caved and allowed the rally to go on at the plaza as planned. Before the rally, nurses attended an international panel discussion on global austerity and ways to fight back, including the Robin Hood tax. It’s so important we have a strong Robin Hood tax campaign,” said Jörn Kalinski, Oxfam Germany director of lobbying and campaigns. “We need America to come around on this issue. In addition to Kalinski, other speakers included: Mi Jung Han, RN, Vice President, Korean Health and Medical Workers Union (South Korea), David Hillman, Coordinator, Stamp Out Poverty (UK), Rosa Pavanelli, President, Funzione Pubblica CGIL (Italy) and Vice President, European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), Linda Silas, RN, President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (Canada), and Brenda Cristina Morales, RN, Regional Coordinator, Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Salud deGuatemala (SNTSG) (Guatemala) made presentations. See more pictures from The People’s G8 here!

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Mark Vorpahl is a unionist and anti-war activist and writer for Workers Action. He may be reached at