Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, pictured at the Michigan Roundtable Festival on Belle Isle in Detroit during the summer of 2008. Azikiwe has written extensively on Pan-African and world affairs over the years. (Photo: Alan Pollock), a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Detroit Under Siege: Consent Agreement Being Forced on Michigan’s Largest City
Majority African American municipality fights back against state takeover
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
A new round of political assaults has been launched against the people of Detroit through a threat of imposing a consent agreement on both the Mayor and the City Council. Two drafts of a document have been released to the public and sent to Mayor Dave Bing as well as the nine-member City Council.
The consent agreements leaked on March 13 mandate the creation of a parallel nine-member “Financial Advisory Board” (FAB) which would take over full operations of the administrative and decision-making capacity of elected municipal officials. This board, that would be appointed by conservative Gov. Rick Snyder, and totally unaccountable to the existing representatives of the city, is charged to enact draconian measures aimed at ensuring the full payment of usurious debt-service to the financial institutions under threat of default.
Other instruments of authority embodied in the FAB would include the right to nullify labor and vendor contracts, the termination of workers and managers, the privatization of city services and the auctioning-off of municipal assets. The $6 billion in worker pension funds would be subject to seizure and “reinvestment” along with the outright theft of deferred wages in the form of unused sick days and vacation time.
Detroit Responds With Anger and Outrage
Word of the consent agreement surfaced during the evening of March 12. This new initiative on the part of Gov. Snyder immediately sparked widespread comment among city residents.
Debra Taylor, a community activist and organizer for the group “We the People,” wrote on Facebook that the city’s acceptance of such an obligation would be tantamount to a return to “sharecropping.” On the following day, March 13, the Detroit City Council was flooded with requests for public comment.
Members and leaders of municipal unions and community organizations staunchly denounced the draft consent agreements. Atty. Jerome Goldberg, an organizer for the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs, said that the city government should go after the hundreds of millions of dollars owed to Detroit by the state.
City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson has consistently raised the failure of the state government to make good on a revenue sharing agreement that if paid, would provide over $550 million to Detroit. Goldberg stressed at City Council that “it is the banks which have driven hundreds of thousands of people out of the city.”
He noted that a moratorium on debt-service payments to the financial institutions would provide much need relief to a beleaguered city.
Even Mayor Bing, who was favored in the last elections by the corporate community due to his business background, rejected the proposed consent agreement. During an interview at Wayne County Community College Downtown (WCCCD) on March 13, he called Snyder “disingenuous.” (Detroit Free Press, March 13)
Bing went on to further say that he was handed the 21-page draft consent agreement by representatives of the Gov. Snyder and told that he had one hour to sign it. The Mayor then told a crowd of hundreds of students and community people at WCCCD that “Hell no, under no circumstances would I sign such an agreement.”
“I was elected to work for the people of Detroit, not Gov. Snyder,” Bing retorted. Bing has been in negotiations with municipal unions over the last several month involving “cost-cutting measures.” Yet no agreement has been reached and no vote has taken place among rank-and-file members.
Ruling Class Responds to People’s Opposition
The draft consent agreement is the response of the bankers and bosses to the months-long struggle of people in the city and around the state in opposition to Public Act 4. This bill, passed one year ago by the state legislature, has been labeled the “dictator law” because it usurps local authority in the interests of corporate power.
There has been widespread rejection of Public Act 4 through mass meetings and a statewide petition drive that collected 226,000 signatures aimed at repealing the “dictator law.” A number of lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Michigan residents challenging the constitutionality of the law.
The signing of a consent agreement mandating cuts and other austerity measures is merely a cover for the eventual appointment of an emergency manager who has total power to implement drastic political and economic policy without the involvement of the population, elected officials and unions.
The ratification of the petition signatures by the Secretary of State would nullify the law and put it on a ballot referendum in November. Lawyers for opponents to Public Act 4, immediately after ratification of the petition signatures, would then seek an order removing all emergency managers from the cities of Flint, Pontiac, Ecorse, Benton Harbor and possibly Inkster.
These maneuvers by the state government illustrate the contradictions within the bourgeois democratic system. Even though the threat of consent agreements and emergency management has been challenged in the courts and through state-approved petitions, the ruling class through its agents in Lansing (the state capital), are determined to thwart the will of the people.
The imposition of emergency management and consent agreements has nothing to do with improving the finances of distressed cities. These measures will not restore municipal jobs and salaries, public lighting and transportation, quality education, affordable housing or protect worker pensions.
In fact these are instruments of the ruling class are designed to take back the concessions workers have gained through decades of struggle. This is why the people of Detroit have an inherent mistrust of such actions.
If the existing methods of resistance to the onslaught of austerity are overlooked and subverted by the surrogates of capital new and more militant actions will come into being.