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Struggle escalates to stop Detroit school closings

Published Apr 1, 2010 9:16 PM

A citywide meeting held March 27 at the Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit called for a united effort to address the escalating attacks against working people, including school closures, education and other public sector layoffs, and plans to seize municipal pension funds, downsize the city and sell the Medical Center to an outside Tennessee-based corporation.

Sponsored by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs, the gathering included local activists, political officials and community organizers. Resolutions were adopted calling for opposition to school closings; a mass demonstration on April 20 at the mayor’s office; and support for the May Day demonstration as well as the May 8 national march for jobs in Washington, D.C., being called by the Bail Out the People Movement.

A burgeoning political struggle in Detroit around the privatization of the school system and the conflict between city workers and the Dave Bing administration escalated on March 23 with two major demonstrations against the crisis in the public education system and Mayor Bing’s corporate-engineered plans to “downsize” the city.

Demonstrations express outrage

Outside the offices of the state-appointed emergency financial manager 2,000 union members, community people and youth demonstrated, demanding an end to efforts to dismantle K-12 public education in the city. The picket was organized by the Coalition of Detroit Public Schools Unions, which includes clerical workers, teachers and other employees. The protest was also attended by bus drivers from the Safeway transportation company whose contract has been cancelled in favor of First Student Transportation out of Ohio.

The bus drivers traveled to Lansing, the state capital, at least three times in mid-March to protest and meet with lawmakers. On March 23 they went again and won a pledge from the state legislative appropriations committee to hold hearings on the bidding process surrounding First Student.

The elected Detroit Board of Education, whose powers are being abrogated by the emergency financial manager, Robert Bobb, went to court on March 23 seeking an injunction to stop the proposed closing of 45 schools. A hearing will be held on April 16 in Wayne County Circuit Court.

Support for the unions and the forces opposing the dismantling and privatization is growing daily despite the intensive propaganda campaign being waged by the corporate media and private foundations such as Kresge and Skillman. These entities are praising the plans delivered by Bobb and Bing and ignoring and attacking the unions and community organizations that are challenging them.

After the demonstration at the DPS headquarters, more than 100 people marched down Woodward Avenue to Orchestra Hall, where Mayor Bing was slated to give his “state of the city” address. The demonstration was called by Moratorium NOW! and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 207. Leaders from the DPS clerical workers union and other city locals joined the protest.

Bing’s plan to “downsize” the city has been challenged by Moratorium NOW! and others. The ruling class interests represented by Bing have been compelled to respond to allegations of forced displacement and the dismantling of city governance structures by corporate interests.

On March 23, WWJ news radio, the local CBS affiliate, ran reports all day on Moratorium NOW!’s opposition to downsizing the city and the demand for the declaration of a state of economic emergency and the imposition of a halt to foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs.

Moratorium NOW! issued a poster that pointed to the role of the banks in the crisis. It points out in plain language that there are hundreds of millions of dollars being paid in debt service while workers’ salaries remain frozen and cut, schools are being closed and the capitalist class is openly advancing plans in the media to further dislocate and oppress the people.

At the March 27 town hall meeting, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition stated that its present task is to raise the level of the political struggle so a clear connection can be made between the assault on workers and the community in Detroit and the overall economic crisis in the capitalist system at present. Many workers and community activists have exclusively focused on Bobb and Bing as culprits in the process. Although this is true in appearance, both of them are acting on behalf of the interests of finance capital, which views the public sector, including public education and municipal pension funds, as ripe for seizure and exploitation.

City must cancel debt service to banks

In response to the crisis, community meetings are being held daily and there is a sense of urgency emerging among the people. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition will be making a major push to convey the necessity of united action and to stress the underlying causes of the crisis, which is not confined to Detroit but encompasses the entire state and country.

The city’s debt service payments to the banks and the role of the financial sector and the corporations in the crisis must be addressed.

Moratorium NOW! is demanding the city administration appeal directly to the federal government to immediately create jobs in Detroit. A letter to Bing was delivered two months ago and a resolution to the City Council has been submitted to this effect as well.

The mayor and City Council have not responded because of the corporate orientation of Bing and the stranglehold that the financial institutions have over Michigan’s largest municipality. There is also a newly dominant group within the City Council which believes that school closings, downsizing and pension fund seizures are the only logical response to the economic crisis.

Moratorium NOW! reiterated at the March 27 meeting that a political struggle against the banks and corporations is necessary in order for these issues to be successfully addressed. The coalition has called for a demonstration April 20 to further pressure the corporate-backed officials and the banks to impose a freeze on foreclosures, evictions, utility shutoffs, school closings and downsizing.

On March 29 there will be a rally at Cooley High School on the city’s northwest side to oppose the school’s closing in June. Later the same day, the emergency financial manager will begin holding invitation-only meetings at Henry Ford High School to discuss the school closings.

Moratorium NOW! will support the rally at Cooley and picket the closed meeting at Henry Ford High School. The organization has developed a leaflet that outlines the major issues and emphasizes the need to build a mass struggle against the banks to halt the cutbacks, layoffs and closings.