Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, on right, with the MECAWI solidarity team which supported the UAW strike against American Axle. This photo was taken on Sunday, March 16, 2008. (Photo: Alan Pollock)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Right-Wing Attacks Continue Against Michigan Workers, Oppressed
Unions, community groups vow fight back against austerity and repression
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Since the December 11 passage of right-to-work legislation in Michigan, the unions and community organizations have vowed to continue their fight against the inevitable lowering of wages and benefits. The urgency of passing right-to-work and other bills are clearly a manifestation of an escalating capitalist war being waged on the working class.
The draconian legislation was passed with 17,000 union members, students and their supporters from throughout the state of Michigan holding militant demonstrations both inside and outside the state capitol. Riot police forcefully removed demonstrators from the streets outside the capitol and cleared an entrance to the George Romney building across from the capitol where Snyder’s offices are located.
During demonstrations in Lansing at least eight workers were arrested and charged with felonies. Others were brutality handled and pepper sprayed by state cops.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, a multi-millionaire who has supported some of the most extreme right-wing legislation in the state’s history, has become a focus of demonstrations throughout Michigan. On December 15, Snyder was met by protesters when he addressed the commencement ceremonies for graduates at Michigan State University in East Lansing. (Mlive.com, December 15)
A coalition of labor, faith and progressive organizations lined the roadways to the Breslin Center where they passed out red carnations to graduates and flier explaining the impact of right-to-work. “We will salute our graduates and remind Snyder that right-to-work jeopardizes the future of these graduates,” said a statement issued by the We Are Michigan coalition.
The statement continued that “We are standing up to protect students and families in a state where Gov. Snyder and his wealthy cronies are taxing retirees, cutting education and killing good jobs!”
Bill Reed, who is the president of UAW Local 602 based in Lansing, said “We are here to show our appreciation for the MSU students. The trouble is the governor has not shown that same appreciation. The legislation harms these students’ future.”
Many unions during the demonstrations on December 11 and in recent days have called for an electoral campaign to vote out the right-wing Republicans in2014. However, with the pace of the attacks against organized labor, women, peoples of color, youth and workers in general, many cannot afford to wait another two years for the uncertain outcome of the midterm elections.
The Committee to Beat Back Right-to-Work launched a public campaign within the trade union movement in an attempt to get the various locals to discuss and pass resolutions calling for a general strike. The provisions for such action exist within the trade union structures which grew out of the sit down strikes and other mass mobilizations of the 1930s and early 1940s.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) has Article 50, Sec. 8 of their constitution which states that “In case of great emergency, when the existence of the International Union is involved, together with the economic and social standing of our membership, the International President and International Executive Board shall have the authority to declare a general strike within the industry by a 2/3 vote of the International Executive Board, whenever in their good judgment it shall be deemed proper for the purpose of preserving and perpetuating the rights and living standards of the general membership…provided, under no circumstances shall it call such a strike until approved by a referendum vote of the membership.”
The Committee to Beat Back Right-to-Work set up a Facebook page which has drawn over 100 members. During the demonstrations in Lansing on December 11, two thousand leaflets advocating this program were distributed and well received by the workers.
Further Attacks on Detroit
On the same day that Snyder and the right-wing were passing right-to-work legislation in Lansing, in Detroit a series of repressive measures were forced through under political duress from the state officials and the banks. A contract to provide a $300,000 legal contract for Miller, Canfield law offices, a millionaire firm, was passed 5-4 by the City Council despite the fact that this company has been involved in advising Mayor Dave Bing on the enforcement of the Financial Stability Agreement (FSA).
Another move made was to approve the selling of 1,500 vacant plots of land to a businessman who will establish tree farms. These vacant lots on the city’s eastside are a direct result of the predatory lending policies of the banks which have left hundreds of thousands without homes due to foreclosure and eviction.
Hundreds of Detroit residents have attended City Council hearings to express their opposition to these give-away projects to wealthy corporations. Yet a block of City Council members have consistently voted in favor of initiatives that further erode the political authority and will of the people of the city.
Bing announced recently that the city workers were to be hit by another round of furlough days and layoffs. Nonetheless, the banks who have withheld at least $118 million in unpaid property taxes on vacant homes and buildings, are not being pursued for their debts owed.
The firm which controls one of the large sports arenas in downtown, it was discovered, owed over $2 million in taxes to the city. However, individual households have been receiving notices from the city’s finance division claiming they owe money on back income taxes from 2007 to 2011.
Overall Assault Requires Strategic Approach
In addition to the right-to-work law, other egregious bills were passed during the lame duck session in Michigan. These changes represent the coming nationwide onslaught against working people.
A new emergency manager law was passed even though a proposed amendment to the constitution approving Public Act 4 was rejected by the voters. The new legislation is called the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, and will take effect in March leaving the ominous specter of continued austerity and disempowerment of African American majority cities around the state.
Detroit is to be subjected to a public lighting authority. At present half of the city’s 85,000 street lights are inoperable due to the mounting budget deficits and layoffs.
A Downtown Development Authority bill passed which will allow the state to continue to capture taxes and give these funds directly to private corporations. This process already exists but has been recently questioned. The city has not benefited at all from the outright theft of tax dollars with high unemployment and infrastructural damage worsening.
The personal property tax on businesses was repealed giving the capitalists hundreds of millions needed by local municipalities to finance public services and projects. A regional transit authority was established since the federal government is denying funding to metropolitan Detroit unless this measure was enacted.
Women will face greater obstacles to access to reproductive healthcare. Bills were also passed that will make it far more difficult to recall public officials.
These new laws require drastic action by workers and the oppressed in Michigan. A shift in strategy toward citywide and statewide work stoppages will raise the level of consciousness and struggle within the region and nationally.