Unions, Occupy Wall Street to protest outside Treasury for ‘Robin Hood’ tax

Pivoting off the Occupy Wall Street movement, unions are planning coordinated protests Thursday for a financial transactions tax.

Organizers estimate more than 1,500 union members from more than 20 labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Communications Workers of America (CWA), will be outside the Treasury Department Thursday to call for what has become known as the “Robin Hood Tax.”

Occupy Wall Street protesters also are being bused in from New York by National Nurses United (NNU) — yet another example of the evolving relationship between labor and the protesters that have targeted the financial sector.

Karen Higgins, co-president of the NNU, told The Hill that instituting a financial transactions tax could help fund social programs that are under threat.

“This is actually the first step to do something concrete and beneficial and not harm others by taking money out of social programs that help people survive,” Higgins said. “It is only reasonable that Wall Street contributes its fair share.”

The protest outside Treasury will be one of many planned for Thursday.

Union members, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, will be in Cannes, France, to call for the tax at the opening of the G-20 Summit that will be attended by President Obama and other world leaders.

There are also protests planned for Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Labor leaders have adopted the rhetoric of the protest movement, citing how the 99 percent of the country have suffered at the hands of the wealthiest 1 percent. Unions have provided logistical support for the protesters as well.

NNU members have set up first aid stations in several cities, including at Wall Street, to help the protesters. CWA members marched with protesters to a Verizon wireless store in New York last month. And one of AFSCME’s local Wisconsin unions helped provide pizzas for the protesters.

The protests come as labor has grown frustrated with a proposal by Democratic members of the supercommittee — the panel tasked with reducing the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. The Democrats’ plan would reduce the deficit by $3 trillion — partly through $500 billion in cuts to entitlement programs — and would include $1.3 trillion in tax hikes and Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill. 

Higgins and others in labor have long been calling for a financial transactions tax to help provide government funds for social programs. In September, the AFL-CIO drafted a memo that said a financial transactions tax could bring in $1 trillion in new government revenue over the 10 years.

Higgins said lawmakers are targeting the wrong things to bring down the debt.

“Again, it is still going back to programs that we should not touch during a time of crisis, and this is a time of crisis,” Higgins said. “We need to be very disturbed about what suggestions are being made.”