Struggles from Detroit

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Detroit workers on the march.
Detroit workers on the march.

 

by Will

It is tough watching Detroit go through this. But anyone familiar with the state of the Midwest, the rustbelt, with majority Black cities, knows that the recent budget and social crisis has been in the making since the early 1970s. Some historical accounts like Thomas Surgue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis and the famous Detroit I Do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin place this transition to the 1950s. Yet these two books paint a very different picture of what Black working class life and city looked like before deindustrialization officially attacked the Black working class.

The articles below, from the World Socialist Website and The Michigan Citizen bring us to Detroit amidst a national and international recession. The last decade or so saw the Detroit bourgeoisie try to revive the economy through the casino economy. They also hoped that they could ride the coat tails of the real-estate boom, but Detroit has been cursed—always too late, always too little. The official unemployment rate of Detroit is 17.7% and I have talked to friends who have told me it is probably closer to 30%.  Considering 80% of the city is Black, it is not hard to figure out who is getting hit the hardest. The new mayor of Detroit is using this crisis as a pretext to attack almost all layers of the class in the city. Now working class anger is beginning to erupt across the city.  Public sector workers are on the move.  I will try to interview a friend next week so we can get a picture of some of the movement dynamics happening.  As this crisis unfolds, we all have come to a realization that movement alone will not push the racists and capitalists back.  Our people need to step up their game cuz the enemy is on the march.

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From the WSWS

Detroit city workers oppose concessions, layoffs

21 August 2009

More than 500 city workers and their supporters rallied outside the Coleman A. Young building in downtown Detroit Wednesday evening to protest the concessions demands, layoffs and destruction of city services proposed by Mayor David Bing.

Workers from virtually every city service were represented, including water works employees, sanitation workers, bus drivers and health care employees.

Bing plans to cut city workers’ pay by 10 to 20 percent through furloughs and workweek reductions. Earlier this month, the mayor announced that there would be at least another 1,000 job cuts. Bing is giving workers until August 28 to agree to cuts, threatening to place the city into receivership if they do not.

The rally was called by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 207 and endorsed by ACSMCE Council 25, the collection of locals in Michigan. AFSCME endorsed Bing during the primary elections and has fully supported the Democratic Party establishment in the city. City unions have indicated they are prepared to accept concessions and are looking for a deal with Bing.

Supporters of the Socialist Equality Party distributed statements to the workers calling for the formation of independent rank-and-file committees, in opposition to AFSCME and the other unions. The statement calls for the building of an independent political movement of the working class, opposed to the Democrats and Republicans, and based on a socialist perspective. (See, “For a united movement of Detroit workers! Form rank-and-file committees to oppose concessions!”)

A city nurse spoke to the WSWS about the implications of Bing’s cuts for access to health services. “They want to lay us off, and there’s not a lot of us to begin with. So, they’ll have to close clinics, which is the last resort for health care for many people. We treat a variety of ailments: diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases and even lead poisoning among children, because of the deteriorating housing. I was supposed to be assigned to a flu clinic in the fall, but if we’re laid off, how can these clinics stay open?”

A city bus driver reported that there have been 118 layoff notices sent to Detroit Department of Transportation workers within the last two weeks. Bing has indicated that the city plans on eliminating bus service on the weekend.

D’Artagnan Collier, a city worker who ran as the SEP’s mayoral candidate in the August primaries, addressed workers.

Collier denounced AFSCME, of which he is a member, for supporting Bing. He denounced the cynical moves of the union to renounce its support for Bing earlier this week, when it was clear that Bing had planned to cut city workers’ wages all along.

AFSCME leaders attempted to stop Collier from addressing the rally, which took place on a public street around the Coleman Young Municipal building in downtown Detroit. City workers defended Collier’s right to speak, after which the union officials backed off.

From The Michigan Citizen


BUS REBELLION: ‘Bing stole my ride’

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Angeline Holmes DIANE BUKOWSKI PHOTO

By Diane Bukowski

Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Furious bus riders including youth, seniors, and disabled Detroiters packed hearings at Wayne County Community College’s eastside campus and the downtown Rosa Parks Transit Center Aug. 24 and 25 to denounce drastic cuts in service.

Bus workers and union leaders joined the standing-room only crowds.

Angeline Holmes, who spoke at the WCCC evening public hearing, was so angry that tears streamed down her face.

“All my life I’ve been riding the bus, worn out my shoes,” she said. “Dave Bing, have you ever walked in our shoes? My father had an eighth grade education, my mother never went to school because she had to raise nine brothers and sisters. I’ve worked all over this city, all days and hours. Everybody knows the Grand Belt line is essential. My mother and sister have died and I’ve had eight operations recently. We fall down, but we get up. I’ve been to the mountain, and I’m not going to the back of the bus again.”

Mayor Dave Bing has proposed to cut all service after 6 p.m. Saturday and all day Sunday, eliminate many routes, and increase waiting times on others. One hunded thirteen bus drivers were to be laid off Aug. 28, with many more workers facing the ax later.

June Nickleberry, president of the AFSCME local representing D-DOT clerical workers, said no one would be available to answer resident’s questions on bus routes after the lay-offs.

Chants of “Vote Bing Out,” and “Strike, strike!” peppered the WCCC hearing.

Transportation to jobs was a paramount issue.

“I’ve been a job developer for 11 years,” said Shirley Jackson Carter. “I’ve placed thousands of workers at MGM, the Doubletree Hotel and the Marriott, and worked with many new businesses including locations in the suburbs. Most job applications ask if you have transportation, everybody knows that.”

Audrey Taylor works at the Detroit Public Library.

“Our staff gets out at 6 p.m., and we work Saturdays and Sundays,” she said. “We’ve had cases of workers being raped, and lately they’re transferring us all over the place so carpooling won’t work because a lot of my friends won’t be working with me.”

Many young people turned out.

Teen Shandell Crawford called on the crowd to stand and led a chant of “Fight, fight, fight.” He asked, “What if young people want to go out Saturday night? You’re hurting us and the bus drivers. Dave Bing, get out of Detroit now.”

A 21-year-old college student said, “I’m just now getting my life back on track and you’re not going to take it back. Young Brothers United has helped save countless lives with HIV awareness sessions, and our biggest day is Sunday.”

Others said massive closings have eliminated neighborhood schools in walking distance.

“How is my sister going to get to school?” asked Kelly Lewis. “How am I going to go out on weekends? We need to talk with as many people as we know, our families, friends and church members. We need to stand with the city workers. I think they should strike.”

Senior citizens condemned the cuts.

Josie Hughey said, “As an 83-year-old who has paid taxes all my life, I say this is like scraping the bone before you cut the fat. Bing and his executives have cars and chauffeurs. They need to confiscate all these cars, sell them and save the insurance. Stop taking from the poor to give to the rich.”

Several ministers also spoke at the event.

“The person who decided to make these cuts has never lived in this city, he’s only played basketball here,” said Rev. Edward Slay of New Day Ministries. “Elderly people won’t be able to get to church and they won’t be able to shop. Dave Bing needs to take a jitney out of the city.”

Melody Currie, the director of the Kelly-Morang Senior Center, said only one worker has a car, and seniors using the center take the bus.

Others denounced the effective elimination of transportation for the disabled, including the blind and the wheelchair-bound. City Councilwoman Brenda Jones said the city may be violating the Americans with Disabilities Act if the cuts are enacted.

“The money is there,” said Curtis Ray of BAMN. D-DOT got $37.5 million in economic stimulus funds. We’re the people that make this city run. We can do without the mayor, but we can’t do without the workers.”

City Council President Pro-Tem JoAnn Watson said, “We are the only city that does not have light rail or mass transit. Forty percent of our people don’t have cars. Bing and the whole city should go to President Obama and ask for $1 billion in economic stimulus funds, or our bottom line will get worse.”

Maureen Taylor of the Welfare Rights Organization called on bus riders and workers to sit in on the buses as did Rosa Parks and refuse to move until the cuts are rescinded.

At the Aug. 25 City Council hearing, Bing’s CAO Charlie Beckham and CFO Norman White, the previous director of D-DOT, fielded angry questions from Council members about whether Bing would rescind the cuts in light of the public’s response.

Both said while there was “constant discussion,” it was unlikely Bing would rescind the Aug. 28 lay-offs. Beckham claimed weekend service had to be cut because the lowest-seniority drivers staff the buses then. However, union contracts allow for worker transfers during lay-offs.

White said the Aug. 28 lay-offs would save D-DOT $5 million. While admitting that D-DOT had received economic stimulus funds, he claimed only $3 million of the $37.5 million received could be allocated to driver positions.

The duo agreed with Councilwoman Alberta Tinsley-Talabi that transportation is a “core” service, but said they had not yet worked out which other services provided by Detroit are necessities or “core.”

Watson quoted the City Charter preamble: “The people have a right to expect city government to provide for its residents, decent housing; excellence in education; job opportunities; reliable, convenient and comfortable transportation, recreational facilities, organized programs of recreational activities, cultural enrichment, including libraries and art and historical museums, clean air and waterways, safe drinking water and a sanitary, environmentally sound city.”

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0 thoughts on “Struggles from Detroit”

  1. we went to a bus-riders’ union rally a couple weeks ago here in Austin, TX. there were also some workers and union militants there.

    from what i remember, the city and the workers were facing fare hikes, the elimination of bus stops, and a hiring freeze if not job cuts.

    we spoke with one of the workers, and it seems like worker resistance is actually being lead by a section of the union bureaucracy. there were, of course, problems that went with this.

    first, they accept the rules of engagement for union struggle that are proscribed by the bosses and labor law.

    this is attached at the hip to another point: the union bureaucracy and this form of struggle does not seek to encourage, defend and expand the self-activity of the workers. instead of encouraging workers to organize, workers are just told to show up, carry a sign, maybe chant a little and go home.

    that’s not the same as writing a flyer, organizing a press conference or a march, facing down the bosses, and deciding when it’s time to strike. from self-activity to self-governance.

    this came out in the conversation we had with one of the drivers. he was a union militant. strong, confident and loud. definitely someone you would want with you when it’s time challenge the bosses. but when it comes time to talk about how to organize the only thing he could talk about his how he is a self-described “loud mouth”. when the union bureaucrats tell him to get loud and mouth off to the bosses he is more than willing.

    even though a worker telling the bosses what’s what is an important form of individual resistance, it’s still just that: individualized.

    i could say more, but i won’t.

  2. Will,

    Can you elaborate on your statement that a movement is not enough to push back the capitalist class and the Right? What does it mean to “step up our game” if a movement won’t suffice?

  3. Good points, Khalil.

    From the Michigan Citizen article:

    “Bing and his executives have cars and chauffeurs. They need to confiscate all these cars, sell them and save the insurance. Stop taking from the poor to give to the rich.”

    For all those health care haters and racists out ranting about Obama being a socialist, it’s these sentiments expressed in the article that they should really be concerned about. These are powerful statements that express people’s very deep, and very real, anger about the current social order. Hopefully they are finding an organizational and active form in Detroit, and elsewhere, as people (begin to?) respond to the economic & political crisis.

    Public transit organizing is so vital to community life, especially today where so many of our communities have been torn apart and now look like urban wastelands. I’ve heard that in Detroit they call it “urban prairies” where basically 1 or 2 houses sit on a city block, surrounded by overgrown grass on lots where houses were demolished (due to foreclosure, neglect, etc.) and nothing’s been rebuilt. Parts of New Orleans, where I just moved from, look like that too. Accessible and affordable public transit makes it possible for people to still connect despite the ways our neighborhoods have been dismantled and isolated.

    On a related note, it seems like a lot of folks in the article were voicing support for a strike against the transit cuts. I hope they do it. In recent years there’s also been some creative tactics used in Cali, Chicago and elsewhere such as fare strikes, where bus drivers & rail operators still run their route, but they let riders on for free. It’s kinda like a factory sit-in, where the community of riders & the transit workers are keeping the “production line” going but at the same time are undercutting the capitalists’ ability to make a profit off of it. It also can help build solidarity and common struggle between the transit workers and the community (who are usually also workers).

  4. “Bing and the whole city should go to President Obama and ask for $1 billion in economic stimulus funds, or our bottom line will get worse.” Could you imagine that? Millions of rustbelt citizens marching on Washington to demand that the federal government bail out the Midwest Black workers, not the banks? That’s what it will take to get the federal government to give a shit about what’s happening in places like Detroit. Obama has stated that he won’t target stimulus money towards specific regions or demographic groups. Report after report have come out showing that for Black folks this is NOT a recession, this is DEPRESSION and there is NO recovery in sight. (for example, check out: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/opinion/13ehrenreich.html?_r=1). And that’s because they’re allowing Detroit, Toledo, Gary, etc. to crumble through the economic equivalent of Hurricane Katrina. Obama is presiding over one the largest re-segregation of the workforce in decades. Lobbying and rallies alone will not stop that. These Detroit workers are right – strikes and more are necessary.

  5. this is also a perfect example of why there needs to be worker control over how any federal “stimulus” money is spent. The DOT gets 35 million but then they claim they can’t use it to pay for driver’s wages so there needs to be layoffs and service cuts. What the hell are they using the money for then? What are they stimulating if workers can’t even take the bus to work any more? It’s this sort of thing that really shows the self-confessed bankruptcy of official society. They have no answer to this crisis.

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