Does protesting and pressuring powerful players in political and economic life matter?
Can the White House and Congress really be moved on questions so central as taxing financial speculation?
And here’s the evidence of how of it works.
For months, the AFL-CIO has been been pressuring the Obama administration to ease off rigid opposition to international efforts to tax financial speculators. And that pressure has been highlighted on Capitol Hill and on the streets by an allied union, National Nurses United.
The White House stance has been one of the chief barriers to the efforts of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to reach an agreement within the Group of 20 economic superpowers to develop a small financial transactions tax (FTT) that would target speculators.
A tiny tax of this kind on stock, bond and commodity transactions would not be a problem for small investors, who would barely note its presence—and might even be exempt from it. But it could reap hundreds of billions from the high-stakes speculators who trade financial instruments at lighting speed and in immense numbers.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has met personally with key administration aides to urge the US Treasury to, at the very least, get out of the way of efforts to develop a financial transactions tax internationally and, potentially, in the United States.
At the same time, National Nurses United has worked closely with the 99 Percenters of the Occupy Wall Street movement to ramp up a major “Tax Wall Street” campaign. On Thursday, thousands of nurses and their allies rallied outside the Treasury Department headquarters in Washington on behalf of the project.
Also, on Thursday, NNU executive director Rose Ann DeMoro was in Cannes with international nurses union leaders to up the ante going into this week’s G-20 meetings. Early Thursday, she was saying, “It is long past time for Secretary Geithner and President Obama to get on board with other world leaders in supporting this common-sense approach to raise badly needed revenues to help fund the critical programs we need to revive the US and other global economies.”
Then something significant, potentially remarkable, happened.
As the nurses were preparing to rally, in Cannes and Washington, a Reuters report announced that “European leaders could make progress in their drive for a financial transaction tax at a Group of 20 summit this week after French President Nicolas Sarkozy indicated Washington may prove less of a barrier than in the past.”
An EU source told Reuters the United States now seemed “less problematic” on the issue.
A source in an international development organization told Reuters that, while the United States still opposed the idea in principle, it would “not block others from going ahead with new taxes.”