Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, at the Detroit Jazz Festival downtown on Sunday, September 4, 2011. The festival is an annual event in the city. (Photo: Andrea Egypt), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Thousands Imperiled With Enactment of Austerity Measures in Michigan
Capitalist crisis passed on to workers and poor
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Some 15,000 children and thousands more adults will be put off of cash assistance in Michigan on October 1 due to the draconian legislation adopted in recent months. These cuts were recently passed and signed into law in Lansing by the conservative state legislature and Republican Governor Rick Snyder.
The state of Michigan and its largest city, Detroit, has been at the epicenter of the economic crisis over the last several years. A million jobs were loss in the state in one decade and the unemployment rate remains officially above 12 percent in the state.
In Detroit, the unemployment rate is well over 28 percent officially and if discouraged and part-time workers are included it is at least 44 percent. The city of Detroit lost 237,000 residents over the last census period of ten years and there are plans underway for the further downsizing of the public education system and the public sector.
Demonstrations Oppose Cuts
The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) has been holding weekly demonstrations every Thursday at Noon in front of the state office building at Cadillac Plaza in the New Center area of Detroit. The lunchtime pickets have grown over the last two weeks.
Maureen Taylor, Co-Chair of MWRO, says that the cuts are going to make the situation even worse in the state. Taylor was a recent guest on Fox2 television and TV 33 in the Detroit area.
Standing up against the ruling class notions that the working class are responsible for their own suffering and marginalization, Taylor has maintained MWRO staunch defense of the most oppressed segments of the working class. Slogans such as "tax the rich, feed the poor" have echoed at the demonstrations at the state office building.
Attacks on Welfare, Public Sector Are Part of the Capitalist Austerity Program
These increased attacks and demonization against the poor coincide with similar assaults on public sector employees. The state of Michigan workers were recently threatened with a 10 percent cut in their salaries by Gov. Snyder.
In the public school system in Detroit, the state-appointed Emergency Manager, former General Motors executive Roy Roberts, has imposed a 10 percent pay cut on teachers who have already taken severe reductions in salaries and benefits. Members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) and other unions representing the clerical workers and custodians held a mass demonstration outside public school headquarters during late August opposing the cuts.
City of Detroit employees have also had their salaries cut by 10 percent along with further losses of benefits for healthcare. Public transportation in Detroit, which has been crippled for years, has experienced major reductions in bus routes, the slowing down of bus schedules and the raising of the fare by 25 cents for the Downtown People Mover.
Taking the lead in the response to the crisis in public transportation in Detroit, the Warriors on Wheels (WOW) people with disabilities organization staged a demonstration on August 31 outside the headquarters of the Department of Transportation. The organizations's spokesperson Lisa Franklin called for full accessibility on the buses, the replacement of the city's current para-transit provider and for the creation of a department to address the needs of the people with disabilities community.
Moratorium NOW! Intervenes During Labor Day March
The annual Labor Day march in Detroit took on added urgency this year due to the worsening economic crisis facing the people of Michigan as well as the escalation of war by U.S. imperialism in Central Asia and North Africa. Tens of thousands of trade unionists took to the streets on September 5 to demand jobs, income, health care and hands off the pension funds of workers.
At this demonstration were delegations of workers from all the major unions in the Detroit metropolitan area including the UAW, AFSCME, SEIU, Teamsters, AFL-CIO and others. Later on the same day President Obama addressed a crowd outside the General Motors World Headquarters located in the Renaissance Center.
Members of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs staffed a literature table at the end of the march in order to hold up two banners and to distribute thousands of leaflets calling for the enforcement of full employment legislation from 1978. The leaflet also demanded a two year moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in Michigan and across the U.S.
One banner created by Moratorium NOW! called on President Obama to "Issue an Executive Order Enacting the Full Employment Act." The second banner called upon Obama to "Issue an Executive Order Declaring a Moratorium on Foreclosures and Evictions."
Many workers cheered on the banners and took flyers from the Moratorium NOW! activists. Many others signed a petition to the federal government also calling for a halt to foreclosures and a federal jobs program.
The statement issued by Moratorium NOW! lead off by demanding that "President Obama take action through executive order to defend our rights to our jobs and our homes. Just as the presidents bypassed Congress to wage wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, President Obama must bypass Congress to declare a war on unemployment and foreclosures and evictions that are destroying our communities."
This leaflet also recalled that the moratorium won on foreclosures during the Great Depression of the 1930s, that stayed evictions for five years, came about as a result of mass struggle. The leaflet called upon workers to organize and demand a moratorium and a federal jobs program today.
Obama has announced a new initiative to create jobs mainly in the private sector with some emphasis on public works projects. However, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition activists told workers at Labor Day that what was really needed was a jobs program aimed at re-employing the 30-40 million workers that are unemployed and underemployed in the U.S.