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Detroit & the struggle against the economic crisis

Emergency management looms while cuts continue unabated

Published Feb 27, 2012 10:00 PM

Anger and uncertainty are rising rapidly among the workers, youth, seniors, unemployed and professional groups in Detroit amid Gov. Rick Snyder’s threats against the majority African-American city. A governor-appointed state review panel is currently roaming the corridors and offices of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, exploring whether the city should be placed under emergency management.

Many accuse the banks, the corporate media and their allied politicians of manufacturing this crisis to justify seizing public assets and downsizing municipal services even further and for the outright theft of city employees’ health care plans and pensions funds.

The state is giving the city two options: sign a consent agreement mandating massive layoffs and cuts in municipal services or face the appointment of an emergency manager who will nullify the limited authority of elected officials and abrogate union contracts.

Despite these threats the people in the city have been resisting. Some 200,000 people signed a petition aimed at repealing Public Act 4, the emergency manager law, for submission to the state election commission. Several lawsuits have been filed challenging Public Act 4’s constitutionality. The law’s only real aim is to ensure that the banks get paid the billions of dollars they claim the working people of Detroit owe them.

Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette ruled that the meetings of the state-appointed financial review team were invalid because these secret gatherings violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act. Highland Park school board member Robert Davis had filed the suit against the state about this. Davis also challenged the appointment of an emergency manager who could seize control of that city’s public school system. (Highland Park is an enclave surrounded by Detroit.)

Judge Collette’s ruling bars any future secret meetings of the financial review team, which is headed by Andy Dillion, the state treasurer and former leader of the Democratic Party in the state legislature in Lansing. That decision also nullifies the appointment of Jack Martin as the emergency manager over the Highland Park School Board.

Although the governor’s office is appealing the ruling and its applicability, the suit itself and the Ingham County ruling points to the inherent contradictions in the supposed legality of Public Act 4. With the current economic crisis worsening in the United States, the ruling class will act to weaken even symbolic forms of capitalist democracy to further weaken and exploit the working class and the oppressed.

Cuts continue under Bing

Although the state-appointed review panel has made no decision on imposing a consent agreement or an emergency manager in Detroit, the total onslaught against Detroit’s people is underway. Municipal services are eroding as public transportation, public lighting, emergency medical services and the working conditions of city employees all decline.

The corporate newspapers are the main proponents of austerity and emergency management for the city. Yet they demand no concessions from the banks and multinational corporations that have strangled Detroit for decades.

All newspaper articles demand that city unions grant even further concessions to the bosses and argue that defined pension benefits are unsustainable and therefore justify their appropriation by avaricious Wall Street entities. A tentative agreement between the municipal unions and the corporate-oriented Bing administration calls for massive layoffs, permanent pay cuts, higher co-pays for medical benefits and greater employee contributions to pension plans.

The bus system already suffers from the lack of spare parts, the paucity of skilled workers to maintain the vehicles, and continuing funding cuts for public transportation all around the county. Now it faces even greater downsizing, elimination of routes and less frequent service.

Mayor Bing’s administration has proposed halting buses between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., cancelling all routes during large sections of the weekend, raising fares and lengthening wait times on individual routes. Conditions are already at the breaking point, with 250 buses off the street due to lack of repairs. Because of this, many workers are losing their jobs because they are unable to get to work.

Despite these existing cuts and the ones being proposed, the ruling class and bureaucrats make no claim the austerity measures will cut the deficit or eventually restore city services. Ultimately the actions aimed against Detroit are designed to bust the unions and beat back the people in the city, who have a long tradition of labor and national struggles against racism and economic injustice.