Thursday, March 22, 2012

Detroit & the Capitalist Crisis in the Cities

Detroit & the Capitalist Crisis in the Cities:

The Escalation of the Struggle Against Foreclosure and Evictions

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Note: The following are excerpts from a talk that was delivered in New York City on March 16, 2012 during a Workers World weekly forum.

As we have written about and discussed during the recent period of 2007 to the present—and in relationship to the City of Detroit—this takes on added significance, the world economic crisis of overproduction has caused tremendous suffering among the working class and the oppressed. Massive layoffs, home foreclosures and evictions, the denial of health care, utility services, the decline in real wages and the overall deterioration of the standard of living has been worsening and persistent.

Despite the reports from some academic economists and the corporate media that the Great Recession ended two-and-one-half years ago, the so-called “jobless recovery,” and over the last six months, that the growth in employment figures constitute proof that capitalism is still capable of rejuvenation and vibrancy, the reality for the overwhelming majority of people in the United States and around the world indicates that the crisis has not abated.

In Europe, the financial establishment has been forced to demand that Central Banks allocate more money to stave off total collapse in Greece and worsening conditions in Spain, Portugal and Ireland. In France, Italy and Britain, the capitalist right-wing governments are imposing greater cuts on the services for the working class and youth. This has become the norm throughout the continent and the UK.

In the United States we hear every day about the rising stock market and the profitability of Wall Street. Yet in the states, cities, suburbs, small towns and rural areas there are unprecedented downsizings in public and social services as well as in education.

One year ago there was the opening of a new assault on the public sector with the attempts to eliminate collective bargaining rights for civil servants and educators. There have been large-scale layoffs of firefighters, emergency medical technicians, school teachers, clerical workers and other municipal employees.

We have witnessed the decline in public transportation, public lighting and the overall maintenance of urban and suburban infrastructures.

The financial institutions have robbed billions of dollars from the people through the collection of usurious interests on loans and bond obligations. Workers are subjected to increasing attacks on their livelihood through forced pay cuts, hiring freezes, privatization of services, rising costs for healthcare and pensions.

The capitalist press, in conjunction with the bankers and the bosses, tell the workers and the public in general that the source of the crisis of the cities and suburbs are the “bloated” labor forces of municipalities, the cost of healthcare, educational and pension obligations for civil servants and educators. Therefore, in order to solve the problem of debt in the cities, the workers must accept austerity or face emergency management and possibly bankruptcy which would bust the unions and setback the gains won through struggles waged since the 1930s.

In Detroit the struggle of the workers overlap with the national question since the city has the largest proportion of African Americans of any city over 500,000 in the U.S. At present the cities of Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac, Ecorse—all of which have majority Black populations—have been placed under emergency management where so-called “financial experts,” that are agents of the bankers who caused the crisis, have usurped public officials as the sole authority over administering public life and ostensibly putting these municipalities on the road to recovery.

These are the objective conditions we are facing in Detroit, in Michigan and in many areas of the country.

Housing Is a Right

It is within this context that we view the current problem of foreclosure and eviction. It was not the housing crisis that caused the economic meltdown, but vice-versa. The broader crisis of modern-day capitalism has wrecked the housing industry.

Millions have already lost their homes and apartments; millions more are under threat; most homeowners are “underwater”, where the value of their homes within the capitalist market is far less than the mortgages and rents they are obligated to pay to the bankers and landlords.

With the collapse of the mortgage industry in 2007-2008, the federal government through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has assumed the toxic debt created by the bankers. The costs of these decisions have been passed on to the workers and youth of the U.S. and the world.

In Detroit we have for the last five years focused considerable attention on the demand for a statewide, and now, national moratorium on foreclosures and evictions. Detroit, once the industrial hub of the capitalist world, has become the brunt of overproduction and restructuring.

Workers and oppressed people in the city through their mass and industrial struggles were able to win significant concessions from the ruling class between the 1930s and 1970s. Seeing the determination of the workers in Detroit and Michigan, the bosses, backed by the federal government, struck back with a vengeance. Today we are in a state of protracted class warfare.

March 31 National Conference in Detroit

The upcoming conference on March 31 is shaping up to bring some of the leading forces in the anti-foreclosure struggle to Detroit. People are committed to participate from California, Oregon, Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois, New York and Wisconsin.

At present we are holding discussions with Take Back the Land (who have a slightly different view than us) but are militantly seeking to move people back into their homes. We have met with the Chicago Anti-Eviction Coalition and are strengthening relations.

Locally City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson has been an ally in the housing struggle as well as the struggle against Public Act 4. She refers to us as the “Left” and relies on us for bold ideas, initiatives and principled involvement in broad community coalitions.

There are local forces we are working with including the People Before Banks Coalition, Occupy Detroit Anti-Foreclosure Working Group, UAW Local 600, Detroit Metro AFL-CIO and UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada.

The conference will be held at Central United Methodist Church which is led by Pastor Ed Rowe, also an ally, who supports the moratorium. Rev. Rowe also hosts our annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Rally and March, which for the last nine years, we, and local allies, have effectively reclaimed the genuine social justice and peace legacy of Dr. King.

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