Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Impact of the Crisis on Detroit City Workers

Impact of the Crisis on City Workers

DETROIT ON THE DECLINE: The Final Nail In The Coffin

By Andrea Egypt
Editor's Note: The following is a talk delivered by the author at a public meeting entitled "What's Behind the Detroit Economic Crisis." This meeting was held on April 17, 2010.
When I came to Detroit in 1986, I was surprised to see a predominantly black city government which was something unheard of in California, Philadelphia, and Texas, where I used to live before coming to Detroit. I noticed that the people in Detroit had good paying jobs in the automotive industry, they owned homes and businesses and drove nice cars and my goal was to apply for employment with the City government because I thought it would provide the kind of job stability I needed to raise a family within the context of a black empowered community.

At the time, I was employed with a private sector law firm who had hired me due to affirmative action laws and I did not feel welcome or appreciated. I had graduated from Ross Business Institute (legal secretarial studies) but I was a low paid filing clerk and billing typist instead of legal secretary.

When someone stole the money kept in the safe at the Law Firm I was the number one suspect, but soon they learned that a white co-worker with a cocaine problem stole the money and though they never directly accused me, I felt even more isolated and marginalized which led me to seek employment with the City of Detroit. I took the test with the City of Detroit, passed it and have been employed with good benefits with the City of Detroit for 23 years.

I eventually learned the history of Detroit concerning the race riots and rebellion that divided the city and led to the “white flight” to the suburbs. When I came on board with the city, you had to live in the city to work for the city. Therefore, most employees for the city were predominantly black.

I began to notice that there was a serious epidemic of drug trafficking, crack cocaine and heroine addiction which was destroying the Black community. The gambling addictions and crime rate was high and young black men were being locked up for long prison terms and the female population outnumbered the male population which further eroded the family structure.

Most black women who worked for the City of Detroit ran single parent households. At the same in Detroit many black women were underemployed or on welfare. I wondered if the children were failing in school due the instability of the community or the dis-functional situations at home because drop out the rate was increasing, while the funding was decreasing and more residents began to leave Detroit to move to the suburbs to escape these conditions.

At this time President Clinton was downsizing the welfare rolls forcing mostly young black women to find low paying jobs to support themselves and their children and I noticed that there were social programs to help assist in education and training, health care, and drug addiction. There was no 700 billion dollar mandate to fund a war and there was a surplus in the federal treasury.

Fast forward to today after September 11, 2001, President George Bush declared that he was a war president and that he was going to raid the federal surplus and things began take a turn for the worst threatening to push Detroit off the cliff because a whole new series of problems were converging on Detroit at once. The major elephant in the room that is crushing Detroit to death is the funding for the war (a war that is nearly ten years old) which strips $400 million each year from the Detroit budget which is more than the city’s budget deficit.

If these funds were not siphoned to fund the war, we could pay off the budget deficit and still have funds left over. This war has crippled all cities and states in the U.S. with no end in sight. We cannot continue to ignore the impact.

Figures from the information clearing house project state that:

“The budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which has to be voted by Congress by this Oct. 1, looks to be about $3 trillion, not counting the funds collected for Social Security (since the Vietnam War, the government has included the Social Security Trust Fund in the budget as a way to make the cost of America’s imperial military adventures seem smaller in comparison to the total cost of government). Meanwhile, the military share of the budget works out to about $1.6 trillion."

This research source, which is linked with the National Priorities Project, says "That figure includes the Pentagon budget request of $717 billion, plus an estimated $200 billion in supplemental funding (called 'overseas contingency funding' in euphemistic White House-speak), to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, some $40 billion or more in “black box” intelligence agency funding, $94 billion in non-DOD military spending (that would include stuff like military activies funded through NASA, military spending by the State Department, etc., miilitary-related activities within the Dept. of Homeland Security, etc.), $123 billion in veterans benefits and health care spending, and $400 billion in interest on debt raised to pay for prior wars and the standing military during peacetime (whatever that is!)."

The Information Clearing House continues saying that "The 2011 military budget, by the way, is the largest in history, not just in actual dollars, but in inflation-adjusted dollars, exceeding even the spending in World War II, when the nation was on an all-out war footing. This military spending in all its myriad forms works out to represent 53% of total US federal spending."

Finally, "For the average American, what all this means is that of every dollar you send to the IRS, 53 cents will be going to pay for blowing stuff up, fattening the wallets of colonels admirals and generals, bloating the portfolios of investors in military industries, and of course funding the bonuses paid to executives of those companies, and the campaign chests and private expense accounts of the members of Congress who vote for these outlandish budgets.

"Your money will also be going to pay for the salaries and the bullets of those brave heroes over in Afghanistan who are executing kids, killing pregnant women (and then digging out the bullets and claiming they were stabbed by their families), and for the anti-personnel weapons that are creating legions of legless Afghani kids.” (informationclearinghouse.info)

Another elephant in the room is our foreign economic hitman policies like NAFTA that constructs predatory loans to developing countries who cannot afford to pay the interest on these loans. (Sounds familiar). The war and its foreign policy has contributed to the death of millions and created new enemies who will continue to attack the American people who have no control over these wars and depend on their elected officials to control military spending and unnecessary conflicts.

The Role of the Banks

Another major impact on the residents of Detroit is the government de-regulation of the banking industry and predatory lending practices that targeted home owners in Detroit - particularly African American and Latino communities - stripping the equity out of homes and tossing the occupants out in the streets, causing urban blight, vandalism and loss of property value while hedge fund investors on Wall Street profit from the defaults and foreclosures.

These tactics led to a collapse of the housing and banking industry due to intentional fiscal irresponsibility which brought this country to the brink of destruction having to be bailed out by the victims of their predatory lending practices while the top execs got their share for creating the crisis.

Then the credit crunch followed causing a massive inability to purchase goods which contributed to the closing of small businesses and made it almost impossible for college students to get by in higher education. In addition, it has made it more difficult for ordinary working people to manage their expenses which has drastically changed their way of life leading to further erosion of the tax base and purchasing power in the Detroit area.

Today people have to choose between paying the mortgage or getting groceries, or having heat, which is a necessity. Even if homeowners could pay for these things, they struggle to pay their property taxes and many people lose their homes to tax foreclosures. Though natural gas and oil companies report record profits, they have raised utilities rates substantially making it impossible to afford to live in a home.

People have been using dangerous methods to heat their homes which increases the death toll every winter from homes catching fire and whole families dying from toxic fumes from generators. As you drive through Detroit on the freeways you can see burnt out hulls of homes who have caught fire, abandoned, or set on fire to claim insurance money in this time of desperation.

Still more and more people are leaving Detroit shrinking further the property tax base and school milleage which is seriously affecting DPS. Meanwhile Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager for DPS, acts as the agent of destruction of the school system in Detroit to drive the last nail in the coffin of the DPS.

What is the purpose for laying off teachers, closing schools, leaving students to find a way to an overcrowded school further away from home? How is this an improvement? Once the children in the community are being targeted its time for the people in Detroit to stand up and fight back, as we have seen with recent student and teacher protests across the country.

The impact of college tuition increases and the credit crunch have caused many college students to drop out due to the inability to afford to educated and maintain themselves. The impact is that they have to take low paying dead end jobs, if they can find them because they are in direct competition with the older generation who is out of work and competing with them for jobs.

The elimination of grant money is causing students to get loans that will negatively affect their credit and ability to purchase a home or a car after they graduate. The jobless rate will cause many young people to throw up their hands and join the military by reasoning that these wars will never end, therefore, being a soldier means job security and other benefits if they re-enlist.

Another nail in the coffin of Detroit is the big three downsizing in the auto industries and the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler that caused massive unemployment and the ability to shed its obligations to the workers by permanently lowering wages, shedding its obligation to pension and health care plans while simultaneously receiving bailout money from the government while these treasonous companies set up operations for employment overseas increasing unemployment here and busting unions.

The Mayor of Detroit is using the same tactics against the City workers who are not private industry employees. Therefore the AFSCME union has taken him to court and tied up the matter in a fact finding initiative to challenge the validity of this attack on the workers.

At present they have been fighting the 10% cuts and the destruction of the benefits packages which would eliminate bonuses, vacation days, paid lunches, and pension rights for new workers. The management sector of employees have already had a 10% wage cut imposed on them from 2009 until 2011.

The conditions are such that AFSCME employees go unsupervised on furlough days and some people have retired or left their jobs with no replacements leaving those with 10% paycuts and furlough days with the job responsibilities of two and three people.

When you have no job, you have no house, you have no food, you have no car, you have no clothes, you have no money, you have no health care, do you beg in the streets? Or do you fight back?.

I will never leave Detroit in defeat, I don’t care if blocks and blocks of homes are burnt out. I plan to put on the whole armor of resistance and go to battle to take back what rightfully belongs to the community in Detroit.

Don’t Run In Defeat and Retreat! Stand Up And Fight Back - Detroit!

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