Dozens of community and progressive activists representing various organizations and struggles, including city of Detroit workers and retirees faced with the loss of their pensions, met Aug. 14 at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit to plot their next move in the class war intensifying in this city. A new formation, the Coalition for an International People’s Assembly Against the Banks and Against Austerity, was launched, with the goal of hosting a major convergence against the banks in Detroit on Oct. 5-6.
The call to action for this struggle event describes Detroit as “the epicenter for the financial and social war being waged by the banks on the working class.” The discussion at the Aug. 14 gathering reflected a sense of urgency and the need for united action to stop the onslaught facing Detroiters.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court has put on a fast track the eligibility determination of the city’s bankruptcy petition, which was filed by state-appointed Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who has usurped the elected powers of the mayor and city council. Orr is charged with paying off the debt service to the banks at whatever cost to the residents, workers and retirees, as well as city assets such as Belle Isle Park and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The coalition’s initial statement outlines the backdrop of this crisis:
“The fraudulent mortgage lending practices of [the] banks, carried out through subprime and predatory loans, placed 73 percent of Detroit’s homeowners in mortgage crisis, resulting in over 100,000 foreclosures in the last decade. Some 237,000 residents have been driven out of the city. Public education has been gutted.
“After destroying Detroit’s tax base, the banks subjected the city itself to predatory lending, including interest rate swaps resulting in banks collecting interest payments 1,200 percent higher than the actual bond rate. The exorbitant debt the banks imposed on the city was the pretext for Michigan’s governor staging a coup, removing all power from Detroit’s African-American elected officials and imposing an unelected ‘emergency manager’ (EM) whose primary job is to guarantee debt service payment to the banks.
“Now the governor and [EM] have taken the City into the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Their target is City workers’ constitutionally protected pensions, and other immensely valuable City assets. In contrast, bankers are considered ‘secured creditors,’ to be paid first.”
Detroit a test case for further attacks
Even the New York Times of Aug. 16 got it right, with a top editorial headlined, “No Banker Left Behind: The Detroit bankruptcy case provides another example of how Wall Street wins.”
The coalition explains further: “The EM-imposed austerity plan in Detroit is designed to establish a precedent for attacking public workers’ pensions nationwide. Cities and states across the country facing similar debt crises because of the criminal lending practices of the banks are in line for the same treatment as Detroit. These same banks, by imposing over $1 trillion in student loan debt, have declared war on youth, who will be burdened with student debt for the rest of their lives. These austerity programs are being imposed across the globe, in Greece, Spain and Portugal; from Latin America to Asia and Africa.
“These patterns of financial destruction have happened for years in communities of color across the U.S., and now entire cities are being threatened. Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles and Philadelphia are now targeted. … Events in Detroit exemplify historical racism across the U.S., and are underscored by the outrageous verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder, Supreme Court rulings against the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action, and the deportation of over 1 million undocumented immigrants in the past five years.”
The coalition’s initial demands include: Cancel the debt to the banks which is strangling our schools, cities, states and countries. Guarantee workers’ jobs and pensions and services for the community; no union busting. End undemocratic, racist emergency management of our cities and schools. A jobs program funded by the banks to put the unemployed to work rebuilding our cities; the banks owe our communities billions of dollars for the destruction they have caused. Moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions; housing is a right. Repudiate student loan debt; education must be free and available to all; increase funding for public education. Stop racism and attacks on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities and people with disabilities. The federal government must bail out the people, not the banks.
Detroit, once a large, thriving center of the union and Black Liberation movements, needs “the solidarity of the world’s working class to beat back the current onslaught,” say organizers. Everyone is invited to Detroit for the International People’s Assembly Against the Banks and Against Austerity on Oct. 5-6. To endorse or get involved, call 313.744.7912 or email [email protected]; for more information, visit DetroitDebtMoratorium.org or moratorium-mi.org.