Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, after chairing a meeting of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition. The panel featured Attys. Vanessa Fluker and Jerome Goldberg who spoke on the US housing crisis. (Photo: Kelly Feger), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Detroit and the Struggle Against the Economic Crisis
Emergency management looms while cuts continue unabated
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Anger and uncertainty is rising rapidly among the workers, youth, seniors, unemployed and professional groups in Detroit amid the ongoing threats being leveled against the majority African American city by the corporate-driven state government of Governor Rick Snyder. A state review panel appointed by the Governor is currently roaming the corridors and offices of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (CAYMAC, City Hall) in a purported effort to determine whether the city should be placed under emergency management.
This crisis many feel has been manufactured for political purposes by the banks, the corporate media and their allied politicians for the sole purpose of seizing public assets, downsizing municipal services even further and the outright theft of healthcare plans and pensions funds built up over decades by city employees. The city is being given two options by the state: either sign a consent agreement mandating massive layoffs and cuts in municipal services or face the appointment of an emergency manager who will nullify the limited authority of elected officials and abrogate union contracts with workers.
Despite these threats the people in the city have been resisting the takeover of Detroit. A petition drive aimed at repealing Public Act 4, the emergency manager law, has gathered over 200,000 names to be submitted to the state election commission. Several lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of Public Act 4 whose only real aim is to ensure that the banks get paid the billions of dollars they say is owed to them by the working people of the city.
A ruling by Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette decided that the meetings of the state-appointed financial review team were invalid because these secret gatherings violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act. The suit against the state was filed by Highland Park school board member Robert Davis who also challenged the appointment of an emergency manager to seize control of that city’s (enclave surrounded by Detroit) public school system.
The ruling bars any future secret meetings of the financial review team headed by Andy Dillion, the state treasurer and former leader of the Democratic Party in the state legislature in Lansing. Judge Collettee’s decision also nullifies the appointment of Jack Martin as the emergency manager over the Highland Park School Board.
Although the Governor’s office is appealing the ruling and its applicability, the suit itself and the Ingham County ruling points to the inherent contradictions embodied in the supposed legality of Public Act 4. With the current economic crisis worsening in the United States, even symbolic forms of bourgeois democracy will come under scrutiny by the ruling class and the state in order to hasten efforts aimed at further weakening and exploiting the working class and the oppressed.
Cuts Continue Under Bing Administration
Even though no decision has been made by the state-appointed review panel on the imposition of a consent agreement or an emergency manager, the total onslaught against the people of Detroit is well underway. Municipal services are being eroded with the decline in public transportation, public lighting, emergency medical services and the working conditions of city employees.
The corporate newspapers are the main proponents of austerity and emergency management for the city. Yet no concessions are demanded by the banks and multinational corporations that have strangled Detroit for decades.
All newspaper articles demand that the city unions grant even further concessions to the bosses and that defined pension benefits are unsustainable and therefore warrant the appropriation by avaricious Wall Street entities. A tentative agreement between the municipal unions and the corporate-oriented Bing administration calls for massive lay-offs, permanent pay cuts, higher co-pays for medical benefits and greater employee contributions to pension plans.
The bus system, already suffering immensely from the lack of spare parts, the paucity of skilled workers to maintain the vehicles and continuing cuts to funding for public transportation all around the country, is facing even greater downsizing and elimination of routes and frequency of scheduling.
Mayor Bing’s administration has proposed to halt buses between 1:00-4:00am, cancel all routes during large sections of the weekend, raise fares and lengthen wait times on individual routes. Conditions are already at the breaking point with 250 buses off the street due to lack of repairs creating a situation where many workers are losing their jobs because of their inability to get to work.
With all of these existing cuts and the ones being proposed, there is no claim on the part of the ruling class and the bureaucrats that the austerity measures will arrest the deficit or restore city services. Ultimately the course of action being taken against Detroit is designed to bust the unions and beat back the people in the city who have a long tradition of labor and national struggles against racism and economic injustice.
Moratorium NOW! Coalition Calls for Halt to Emergency Management
An upcoming conference being sponsored by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs will be held at Central United Methodist Church on Saturday, March 31 in downtown Detroit. The event is designed to bring people together across the country to make a major push for a moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions on a federal level.
The unbridled practices of the banks are largely responsible for the current crisis in the city. Predatory lending and the enormous debt-service paid by the working people of Detroit have drained the coffers of the tax fund which provides the rationale for large-scale evisceration of public education and public services.
Detroit is owed over $500 million dollars in revenue sharing by the state which would go a long way in improving the economic conditions in the city. The overwhelming majority of mortgages held by homeowners in Detroit are of a predatory nature and therefore has resulted in the erosion of the tax base and the stability of the neighborhoods and small business districts.
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition wants an end to these foreclosures as well as a halt to the payment of debt-service to the financial institutions. Much of the money collected through taxes go directly to the banks and it is these institutions along with the corporations who must pay for the crisis.
Also the Moratorium NOW! Coalition is calling for a federal bailout of the city to eliminate the debt and to fully restore city services. The banks and auto companies were bailed out in 2008-2009 and it is way passed time that the workers who built these corporate institutions get their just compensation for the trillions in wealth stolen directly from them.