Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Detroit's Economic Crisis Demands a Program of Action

Detroit’s Economic Crisis Demands a Program of Action

Workers, oppressed need an independent political agenda to push the struggle forward

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

All workers and oppressed peoples should welcome the August 28 March for Jobs, Justice and Peace in the city of Detroit. The coming together of both the UAW and the Rainbow/Push Coalition represents the potential for a re-emergence of the African-American and Labor alliance that proved critical from the 1930s through the 1960s in the overall movements that won significant concessions and social advances in the areas of workers’ and civil rights.

Both the Flint sit-down strike at General Motors in 1937 and the campaign to win recognition for the UAW at Ford in 1941 were pivotal in building a viable trade union movement in the United States. Even with the impact of the cold war and the anti-communist hysteria spanning from the late 1940s through the early 1970s, African-Americans and their progressive allies were able to fight racism and sexism within industry as well as inside the union bureaucracy itself.

With the large-scale restructuring of capitalism in the United States and around the world starting in the 1970s and extending to the present period, both the labor movement and the African-American struggle has faced formidable challenges in efforts to reorient and regroup their fighting forces. The ruling class has placed the workers and the oppressed into a defensive posture where oftentimes the recognized leadership of the labor unions and civil rights organizations have advanced demands based upon the political terms set by the bosses and the elected officials.

Yet the acceptance of the notion of the permanency of capitalism and imperialism--and the class structures that have evolved under these exploitative systems--has not resulted in any real gains by the working class and the oppressed. In fact just the opposite has been the case where the masses have been further impoverished and marginalized as it relates to decision-making and administrative authority over the direction of the national economy.

Consequently, the current economic crisis requires a more militant approach that places the concerns and interests of the majority of the people at the forefront of any political program aimed at reversing the loss of jobs, wages and social benefits won through the valiant struggles that have been waged since the 1930s. Such a political posture much be based on an objective assessment of the present situation and Detroit provides the most stark example of the current plight of the working class and peoples of color in the United States.

Crisis in Detroit and Its Implications for a Fightback Movement in the U.S.

Detroit is considered the epicenter of the U.S. economic crisis with its high rates of unemployment, home foreclosures, lack of healthcare, poverty and police repression. With Detroit being a majority African-American city (81 percent) these economic conditions must also be viewed within the context of the unresolved national question and its inseparability from the class struggle.

According to a Detroit News article from December 16, the actual unemployment rate in the city is approaching 50 percent. This is despite the fact that the official rate is slightly less than 30 percent when those who are underemployed, discouraged or have returned to school are excluded.

This article says that “The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that for the year that ended in September 2009, Michigan’s official unemployment rate was 12.6 percent. Using the broadest definition of unemployment, the state unemployment rate was 20.9 percent, 66 percent higher than the official rate.” (Detroit News, Dec. 16, 2009)

The article continues pointing out that “Since Detroit’s official rate for October 2009 was 27 percent, that broader rate pushes the city’s rate to as high as 44.8 percent.” This high unemployment rate is reinforced by the other underdeveloped conditions in the city where “For a variety of reasons—access to transportation, job availability and work skills—an estimated 48.5 percent of male Detroiters ages 20 to 64 didn’t have a job in 2008, according to census figures. For Michigan, it is 26.6 percent; for the United States, 21.7 percent.”

In a report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on August 5, “The Detroit area’s largest supersector—trade, transportation, and utilities—posted the area’s largest employment loss, down 9,200 from June 2009 to June 2010, a 2.8 percent decrease. This decline continued the supersector’s unbroken stretch of job losses dating back to April 2001. Nationally, employment in trade, transportation, and utilities declined 0.6 percent from June a year ago. (BLS Report, August 5)

The high rates of foreclosures, lack of healthcare and the crisis in education are directly linked to the lack of jobs with decent incomes and benefits. Even though the state of Michigan and the federal government have announced numerous programs to help homeowners facing foreclosures, the rates have continued to increase overall due to the failure of these state institutions to take action in defense of working families.

Lessons From the Recent Period in Detroit

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs was formed in 2008 to fight for a halt to all home seizures, the throwing of people out of their apartment and flats as well as the termination of essential services such as electricity, heating and water. Although the state and municipal structures have fiercely resisted the imposition of a moratorium, the Coalition has been successful through mass actions and legal work to save the homes of numerous families and to prevent homelessness for several thousand people living in multiple-dwelling structures.

During the 1930s, the Unemployed Councils and other mass organizations put up blockades in front of people’s home in order to stop evictions. If evictions took place they would mobilize the communities to put people back into their homes.

This same model has been implemented in a few cases in Detroit but the large-scale application of this methodology would require a much broader and militant movement that instills into the consciousness of working people that their right to a home supersedes the laws which afford the banks and landlords authority to throw people into the streets.

The same position would hold true as well for utility services since the termination of people’s lights, heating and water services has proved fatal resulting in the deaths of more than 12 people in Detroit over the last year. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition has picketed DTE Energy which is one of the most intransigent corporations in the region. Moratorium NOW! also supported a lawsuit that forced the utility giant to restore electrical services at an apartment building in Highland Park during the summer of 2009.

Yet the governor of Michigan, where a direct appeal was made last winter to impose a moratorium on utility shut-offs for the winter, has refused to halt these practices that have caused the deaths of citizens in the city of Detroit. The upholding of the property rights of the corporations has been universal among both Democratic and Republican politicians which speaks volumes in regard to the necessity of workers and the oppressed to form their own political party that speaks directly to the interests of labor and people of color.

The crisis engendered by massive school closings and downsizing of tens of thousands of educational employees is directly related to the financial crisis of capitalism. In Detroit approximately 80 percent of the state revenue is utilized to pay off massive corporate-imposed debts to the banks. This is why the Moratorium NOW! Coalition calls for a halt to the payment of debt-service to the banks and the utilization of these funds to rehire teachers, custodians, clerical employees and social workers as well as the reinstatement of sports, music and other programs that are essential in implementing quality education programs for youth.

Detroit has also witnessed the dramatic rise in police brutality and misconduct. Since there is no hope for the workers and oppressed under the current capitalist crisis, the state has stepped up its repressive apparatus in an effort to prevent the people from effectively organizing a militant fightback movement. This police repression has been best exemplified with the assassination by the FBI of Imam Luqman Ameen Abudllah in October 2009 and the shooting death of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones on May 16 of this year, both of which have gone unpunished by the state.

As the workers in Greece and South Africa have demonstrated through their strikes and mass actions, the labor and civil rights organizations must take the position that they are not responsible for the economic crisis and therefore should not be obligated to pay for the failed policies of the bosses. The masses must act in their social and political interests by organizing independently of both ruling class parties.

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