Monday, November 21, 2011

Detroit Threatened With More Public Sector Cuts and State Takeover

Detroit Threatened With More Public Sector Cuts and State Takeover

Mayor demands pay reductions or emergency manager request to governor

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Corporate-backed Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has again threatened to enact massive lay-offs and further cuts in city services in response to a "secret audit" report issued by the accounting firm Ernst & Young. In a press conference held at the Northwest Activities Center on November 16, Bing said that the results of the audit report indicated that the city government would "run out of cash" by the Spring of 2011 necessitating drastic action by the administration.

Bing further stressed that if municipal unions and the people of Detroit rejected a new round of workforce reductions, a scale-down in employee benefits and the gutting of services, that he would request a review of the city finances by the Republican Governor Rick Snyder. A law passed in Michigan last spring by the state legislature provides for the appointment of an "Emergency Manager" in fiscally distressed cities, counties and school districts with the power to abrogate labor contracts, impose austerity measures and the expropriation of municipal pension funds.

City workers in Detroit last year had a 10 percent wage reduction forced upon them by the Bing administration. There has also been cuts in healthcare programs for employees and their families.

Public services in the city have been devastated over the last several years as Detroit seeks to stay above water amid massive debts purportedly owed to the banks that require escalting payments to these financial institutions. Already 2,000 civil service positions have been eliminated and the Mayor and City Council are debating over whether to lay-off an additional 1,000-2,300 workers.

The existing pay cuts provided for a two-day mandatory furlough every month without pay. Now city workers are being ordered to report to work for these days while maintaining the existing 10 percent reduction in pay.

Also the public lighting and bus systems have been stretched to the limit with the need for major re-investment in these departments. Thousands of streets lights are broken with no plan for repairing them.

The absence of street lights even on major thoroughfares like Woodward avenue is jeopordizing the health and safety of the population. Bing is threatening to privatize the lighting department by turning over the management to the multi-billion dollar DTE Energy corporation where Bing served as a board member for many years.

In regard to the city's public transportation system, over 250 buses are off the streets due to the lack of spare parts and the refusal of the city to hire mechanics or provide overtime for the existing workforce to make the necessary repairs. Unions representing the bus drivers and mechanics have come under fire by some members of the City Council and the Mayor who are falsely reporting that it is they who are responsible for the absence of functioning buses on the streets.

Bus services are so bad in the city that many workers who rely on the system cannot get to their jobs on time. Interviews with workers indicate that some have lost their jobs due the crisis in the bus transportation system.

In a city already suffering from an official unemployment rate of over 25 percent, things are getting worst because of the lack of reliable public transportation. Hundreds of thousands of students, senior citizens, unemployed people and those fortunate enough to be still working rely on the buses to get back and forth to schools, jobs, doctor's visits and to search for employment.

Occupy Detroit Holds Demonstration Against Austerity

On November 17 the Occupy Detroit movement joined in with the national day of protest against austerity. Encampment activists and their supporters linked up with representatives of at least two city unions to hold a picket and rally outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (City Hall) in downtown Detroit.

About a 150 people marched around the building chanting slogans such as "Bing says cutback, we say fightback!" Representatives of AFSCME Local 207, which represents water employees, called for the city to halt further pay reductions and lay-offs.

A representative of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs spoke at the rally outside City Hall and called for the repayment of over $200 million in state revenue sharing funds that are owed to Detroit. In addition, Moratorium NOW! is demanding that there be increased federal funding for public transportation in order to get the buses back on the street as well as the purchasing of new vehicles and the building of a light rail system that has been delayed in the city.

Moratorium NOW! also urged the Mayor and City Council to appeal to the federal government for a financial bailout. In 2009, the Obama administration forced General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy in order to bailout the auto companies.

The organization called for a bailout of Detroit which has been one of the hardest hit cities due to the economic crisis that began in 2007. Emergency funding from the Obama administration, the suspension of debt-service payments to the banks and an increase in corporate taxes could easily resolve the current financial crisis.

Moratorium NOW! has played an instrumental and supportive role within the Occupy Detroit movement. Through the organization's intervention, the Occupy Detroit movement called for a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.

Occupy Detroit also held demonstrations against the cutbacks in public transportation and for the cancellation of student debt. Moratorium NOW! played an important role in the formation of a labor working group which organized a demonstration on November 6 that attracted over 700 people from various unions and community organizations.

Moratorium NOW! and the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) have held their regular Monday night meetings at Occupy Detroit in Grand Circus Park as an act of solidarity with heavily youth-led movement. Some of the leading activists within Occupy Detroit have expressed an interests in working with Moratorium NOW! on an ongoing basis.

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