Michigan activists fight back as austerity measures imperil thousands
Sep 8, 2011
Some 15,000 children and thousands more adults will be cut off cash
assistance in Michigan on Oct. 1 due to draconian legislation adopted in the
state in recent months. These cuts were passed by the conservative state
Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
The state of Michigan and its largest city, Detroit, have been at the
epicenter of the economic crisis over the last several years. A million jobs
were lost in the state in a decade and the unemployment rate remains officially
above 12 percent.
In Detroit, the unemployment rate is well over 28 percent officially and if
discouraged and part-time workers are included, it is at least 44 percent. The
city lost 237,000 residents over the last 10-year census period and there are
plans underway for the further downsizing of the public education system and
public sector workforce.
The increased attacks on and demonization of the poor coincide with similar
assaults on public-sector employees. Michigan state workers were recently
threatened with a 10 percent cut in their salaries by Gov. Snyder.
In the public school system in Detroit, the state-appointed emergency
manager, former General Motors executive Roy Roberts, has imposed a 10 percent
pay cut on teachers who have already taken severe reductions in salaries and
benefits. Members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers and other unions
representing the clerical workers and custodians held a mass demonstration
outside public school headquarters in late August opposing the cuts.
Detroit city employees have also had their salaries cut by 10 percent along
with further losses in health care benefits. Public transportation in Detroit,
which has been in shambles for years, has experienced major reductions in bus
routes, the slowing down of bus schedules and a 25-cent fare increase for the
Downtown People Mover.
Protests hit anti-poor, anti-worker cuts
The Michigan Welfare Rights Organization has been holding weekly
demonstrations every Thursday at noon in front of the Michigan state office
building at Cadillac Plaza in Detroit’s New Center area. These lunchtime
pickets are growing.
Maureen Taylor, chair of MWRO, says that the cuts to public assistance are
going to make the situation even worse in the state. Taylor was a recent guest
on Fox 2 television and TV 33 in the Detroit area.
Standing up against the ruling-class notion that the working class is
responsible for its own suffering and marginalization, Taylor has maintained
MWRO’s staunch defense of the most oppressed segments of the working
class. Slogans such as “Tax the rich! Feed the poor!” have echoed
at the demonstrations at the state office building.
The annual Labor Day march in Detroit took on added urgency this year due to
the worsening economic crisis facing the people of Michigan as well as the
escalation of war by U.S. imperialism in Central Asia and North Africa. Tens of
thousands of trade unionists from all the major unions in the Detroit metro
area took to the streets on Sept. 5 to demand jobs, income, health care and
hands off the pension funds of workers.
Also on Labor Day, President Barack Obama addressed a crowd outside the
General Motors headquarters in downtown Detroit.
Activists with the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions
Utility Shut-offs held up two banners and distributed thousands of leaflets
calling for the enforcement of the Full Employment Act and demanding a two-year
moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in Michigan and across the U.S. The
group called on Obama to bypass Congress and issue an executive order for jobs
and a foreclosure moratorium.
Many workers cheered at the banners, took flyers and signed a petition to
the federal government calling for a halt to foreclosures and a federal jobs