Remembering Martin Luther King: Rallying for the Robin Hood Tax

by Bill Barclay

Bill Barclay speaking at Chicago RHT rally

Bill Barclay speaking at Chicago RHT rally

April 4th was the Fiftieth anniversary of an event that we don’t like to remember: the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But, it also offers the chance to honor and carry forward MLK’s thinking and goals, particularly the concerns with poverty and inequality that he articulated with increasing intensity in the last years of his life.

So, on April 4th there was a national mobilization around the Robin Hood Tax (RHT), the proposal for a very small tax on financial transactions in stocks, currencies, debt and derivatives, futures and options based on these financial claims. The RHT has two goals: raising a large amount of money to reconstruct the U.S. political economy in a way that serves most of the population and at, the same time, restricting or even eliminating some of the most destructive aspects of finance and financial activities by throwing a small amount of sand into the gears of always increasing and always going faster treading volumes.

rht_kellyLed by National Nurses United (NNU), there were actions on the RHT in almost 25 cities around the country. In Chicago, DSA joined with NNU, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), National People’s Action (NPA) and others to put pressure on Rep. Robin Kelly (D – IL) to support The Inclusive Prosperity Act whose primary sponsor is Rep. Keith Ellison, co-ch of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Act contains a well thought our RHT proposal that would raise $300 – 350 billion/yr. Kelly had promised to support the RHT when she was running for the seat formerly held by Jesse Jackson, but, after a very short time in office, has been backing away from her commitments that helped mobilize volunteers in her campaign. She and her staff are now claiming that they “have talked to economists” and have “concerns” about the RHT.

What are her concerns? The same tired old canards that the right wing has been trotting out for the past decade or more. The exchanges might move. Where will they go? To Europe where 11 countries are moving towards implementing an FTT? Maybe the “little investor” will suffer – this despite the reality that almost 80% of all stocks are owned (directly in brokerage accounts or indirectly via IRAs, 401(k) and similar accounts) by the top 10% of households by income. The latter “concern” makes clear the stark reality: neither Kelly nor her staff have bothered to read the proposed legislation which, after all, contains a carve out clause that allows households, married filing jointly, reporting income of less than $75,000/year (singles reporting income of less than $50000) to claim a dollar for dollar credit against their income tax payments.

So we went to Kelly’s office. This was, in and of itself, an interesting experience. Although Kelly represents many low income constituents in south Chicago, her office is in the south suburbs, away from the experience and lives of most of her constituents. NNU – the union that has been the most committed to and has developed the best understanding among its members of the tax – was the lead organizer for the rally and was joined by DSA, NPA, PDA and others. Kelly refused to meet with us and had, as it turned out, deployed security personnel dressed as police to protect her from her constituents. She sent her chief of staff down to talk to us. This individual trotted out the long discredited claims of RHT opponents but said “we’re in discussions” with Ellison’s staff.

But the problem is deeper than Robin Kelly and her willingness to renege on commitments made during the campaign. Despite the revenue potential of the RHT – $300 – 350 billion/year – and the inclusion of some version of an FTT in the Progressive Caucus’ 2014 “The Better Off Budget” proposal, less than half of the members of the Progressive Caucus are currently signed on as supporters of the Ellison bill. Their numbers have increased in the past few weeks due to pressure from RHT coalitions such as in Chicago. Many unions are on record in support of the FTT but, to make it happen, we have to mobilize pressure on our elected “representatives.” In Chicago we already made this happen with Rep. Jan Schakowsky – and we’re committed to educating and mobilizing Rep. Kelly and others.

 

Bill Barclay is a member of the Chicago Political Economy Group and Chicago DSA

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