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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 program.

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UPDATED Sep 9, 2011 3:36 PM
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