. The following article is from Detroit Workers' Voice #45, February 15, 2004. (CV #35, March
. Detroit city workers and school employees are under attack. Mayor Kilpatrick and the public school officials want to solve their budget crises through massive layoffs and wage cuts. Thousands of our class brothers and sisters are to lose their jobs. Meanwhile public services and the school system will continue to decay.
. Workers of the Detroit metro area! Let's stand with our fellow workers and our children against the Kilpatrick administration and the Detroit Public School (DPS) officials. Some city workers have begun to fight back, organizing pickets. Workers across the metro area can help by bolstering the pickets and any future demonstrations or strikes. Help by spreading leaflets that tell the truth about the budget crises at your workplaces, communities, and schools. Join in protests that confront the city and school officials.
. In their efforts to survive these attacks, the city and school employees must also deal with the
timid leaders of the AFL-CIO who are prone to selling out the workers. That's why city and
school workers, and those that support them, need to develop rank-and-file activity, independent
of the weak city and school union officials.
Massive cuts in employees, services and schools
. In early January, city officials proposed laying off 2-3,000 city workers. Since police, fire and EMS are supposedly not being laid off, this amounts to 25% of all other workers. Already Kilpatrick has declared in his "first phase" of cutbacks the elimination of 237 vacant positions and 686 layoffs. Detroit's already poor bus service will take a heavy hit, with many drivers laid off and elimination of late-night bus routes. Unionized employees are being pressured to take a 10 percent pay cut by having them work for free for 4 hours per week. Nonunion employees will be immediately hit with a 10 percent wage cut. In a few months, Kilpatrick has announced he'll also go after employee benefits programs.
. In order to make the cuts look fair, Kilpatrick says he and his appointees will also take a 10% cut. What a joke! Kilpatrick will still make about $150,000/year not to mention all the other free perks of the job like luxury SUVs for his wife. Indeed, the $25,000 he spent to lease an SUV for his wife could pay the yearly salary of a typical city worker.
. Meanwhile public school officials are also on a budget-slashing rampage. Near Christmas, 372
teachers were given layoff notices. In January it was announced that some 4,000 school
employees were to be axed. And outgoing school superintendent Burnley announced a plan to
close down about half the public schools in Detroit in the next five years. Detroit public schools
have been crumbling for decades. Teachers have to pay for basic supplies out of their own
pockets. Class sizes are often unmanageable. This, combined with ruinous social conditions, has
resulted in a second-class educational system for Detroit students. But the powers-that-be at all
levels of government clearly don't care.
Budget crisis: bipartisan plunder of the workers by the rich
. Kilpatrick tells us there's no alternative to cutbacks because there simply isn't any money available to avoid them. But this covers up what's really going on. It hides that the impoverishment of workers in Detroit and elsewhere is a result of the efforts of the capitalists to squeeze the working class through layoffs, wage and benefit cuts, privatization, outsourcing, union busting, etc. This impoverishment at the hands of the capitalists has led to an ever greater need for public services while at the same time weakening the tax base for such services. The resultant budget crises are but one of the accumulating problems caused by the capitalist economy. But the capitalists don't care unless they feel the pinch themselves. And despite the growing economic problems, the corporations have been raking in monstrous profits.
. In fact, the very budget crises caused by the capitalist economic system have been used by the rich to get measures which further increase their profits at the expense of the workers and poor. For example, city budget crises are used to push for privatization where the capitalists can make a fortune taking over city services. And they used their brought and paid-for politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, to insure that the budget crises are solved through cutbacks that further ruin the masses but leave the rich unscathed.
. When Kilpatrick says there's no money, he hides that the corporations are swimming in profits made off the sweat and blood of the workers. He hides that politicians like himself are dedicated to helping the rich gorge themselves further by having the masses pay the price for the budget crisis.
. Thus, while the masses in Detroit suffer from 14% unemployment and woefully inadequate public services and social programs, a series of Democratic Detroit mayors have always found ways to provide big favors to select powerful business interests. For example, Coleman Young granted super- rich GM huge tax abatements for their Poletown plant. Dennis Archer, with unanimous City Council approval, gave Compuware some $70 million in tax abatements and financed infrastructure projects for them. Pizza baron Mike Ilitch got the city to help finance a large part of Comerica Park. But Kilpatrick is silent about this.
. The Kilpatrick administration also uses present and past budget crises to justify outsourcing city work to private businesses. For instance, city workers are prevented from promptly repairing water main breaks due to restrictions on overtime. This is supposed to "save money. " But according to city workers, the city government spends even more money by hiring private contractors to make the repairs. Detroit school officials are also doing the same thing. They have slashed the number of DPS workers, while handing out lucrative contracts to companies like Compuware as well as private food vendor and grounds maintenance firms. So while the masses are supposed to bear cutbacks, the rich continue to fatten themselves off our taxes.
. Another factor contributing to the Detroit budget crisis is soaring energy and health care costs. But the politicians of both capitalist parties are afraid to step on the toes of the corporate giants who are profit-gouging in these sectors. Kilpatrick himself says these rising prices are a problem, but accepts that the poor must pay for this corporate greed.
. Nor does Kilpatrick utter a peep about the handsome profits made by the banks through financing the city of Detroit's debt. The capitalist economy has ravaged Detroit as auto and other industries that grew fat off the labor of local workers have moved elsewhere, and as jobs and wages have been slashed. And as the spread of poverty fuels the growing budget crisis, the financiers are there to profit off the growing deficits and mass misery. But Kilpatrick prefers to cut city services and destroy workers' livelihoods than to go after the financiers.
. When all is said and done, Kilpatrick's assault on public services and education mimics Bush.
Bush has no money for such things because he wants corporate tax breaks for the rich and needs
hundreds of billions of dollars to carry out imperialist wars in Iraq and elsewhere. Kilpatrick says
there's no money for city buses, but is silent about the plunder of Detroit workers by the Big 3
and other corporations. Indeed, just as Bush says tax breaks for the rich will trickle-down to the
poor by creating jobs, so the Democratic mayors of Detroit have preached the myth that tax
breaks to local corporations will trickle down into local jobs.
The capitalist assault on Detroit schools
. The Detroit school crisis also shows the contempt of the capitalists and their political representatives for the needs of the masses. The capitalist politicians of both parties have not provided adequate resources for public education. And while the DPS officials complain about the lack of resources for education, they dutifully carry out the execution of the public schools.
. The bulk of public school funds, especially in poorer school districts, come from the state of Michigan at present. But state-funding per pupil has been frozen for three years in the face of rising prices charged by the capitalists for the goods and services needed to run the schools. This has contributed to school budget problems throughout Michigan.
. The poor, working class and largely black school districts have always had it the worst when it comes to educational resources. The system of school finance in Michigan until the mid-90s relied mainly on local property taxes. This insured that wealthier areas had a big advantage in potential tax revenue. In the mid-90s, the politicians of both parties promised to remedy these inequalities by having the state government fund most of the education budget. This funding was through a regressive state sales tax. But at least there were promises that each student would get an equal amount of school funding. It sounded as if the gap between rich and poor districts would be narrowed. But there were exemptions which allowed richer districts to maintain large inequalities. Recently WDIV TV reported that a rich district could spend $12,000 per student while a Detroit student got around $7,000. Thus, there remains one public school system for the rich and one for the poor.
. Meanwhile the reforms also meant the private firms could compete for students. The long-neglected Detroit public schools were easy prey. The new charter schools have promised much but delivered little. But they were able to draw students out of the public schools. A large chunk of students who've left the Detroit public schools have enrolled in these schools. As well, competition between public school districts siphoned off Detroit public school students. These methods of siphoning off students from the Detroit public schools accounts for over half the decrease in Detroit public school enrollment this past fall. And in both cases, the funds allocated for the student followed the student out of the Detroit public schools. The result has been a disaster for Detroit school financing.
. True, the loss of students from Detroit schools to some extent would lessen the need for funds. But even with fewer students, there are inadequate resources and the number of students per class is still too high. Moreover, Detroit schools have needs for extra funds because a large majority of its students are poor and face extra obstacles to getting an education. For example, around one in seven students are "special education" students who require more highly-trained teachers.
. In fact, while corporate media like the Detroit News pretend that the school funding crisis is
simply a matter of students exiting Detroit schools, even suburban schools with an influx of
students are facing budget cutbacks. This shows that DPS cutbacks aren't simply a reasonable
readjustment of funds due to fewer students, but part of the capitalist offensive against public
Encourage rank-and-file organization, beware of the union bureaucrats
. City workers, teachers and other DPS employees are angry about the cutbacks with good reason. It is not they who have created the budget crises, but they are the ones being made to pay for it. And the working people of Detroit as a whole are also being made to pay with inferior services and education. It's the capitalists, along with their political flunkies, who are responsible for this calamity. And it's the rich who should bear the burden for the budget deficits.
. But for this to happen, it will take a determined struggle by the workers. It will require militant
mass action to defeat the cutbacks. Already there have been several pickets at the auto show and
school board meetings. But while there are a small handful of local union officials who want to
see some resistance, the bulk of the union officials hope to avoid a determined struggle. For
example, the leadership of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) has essentially approved the
recent layoff of 372 teachers, saying it was done legally. Meanwhile, AFSCME Council 25
leaders like Al Garrett have a history of opposing militant opposition to cutbacks, even
attempting to remove the leadership of AFSCME Local 207 a couple years ago for the "crime" of
encouraging city workers to reject concessions. Thus, the strength of the city workers struggle
will depend on the degree to which the workers keep the initiative in their hands and overcome
the obstacles of class collaborationist union bureaucrats.
Stand with the city workers and public school employees!
. Workers all over the Detroit metro area should stand with the city and school employees. They are defending not only their livelihoods, but the public services and schools needed by all working people in the area. Don't listen to the lies of Kilpatrick and the corporate media that there's no money for such things. There's a budget crisis largely because Republicans and Democrats alike have been taking care of their rich capitalist backers, not the masses. Now the rich should be made to cough it up!
. Let's make the rich pay for the crisis by supporting mass actions the city and school employees organize. Help encourage solidarity with them where you work, live, attend school, etc. Worker-activists should encourage rank and file organization and clarify to the workers what to expect from their union leaders.
. One of the organizations which has expressed solidarity with the city and schools workers is the Detroit chapter of the Million Worker March(MWM). The MWM movement says they are interested in helping the workers build their own movement independent of the politicians. If they actually pursue such a course, they could provide an avenue for activists to assist the struggle. But at the same time, as a whole the leadership of the local Detroit MWM chapter has waffled on taking a public stand against the union bureaucrats who are scared of a militant workers movement and are tied to the Democrats. Indeed some MWM activists are soft on certain local politicians. For example, some tout a national conference of cities being hyped by certain city councilpersons. And some in MWM are even hesitant to come down too hard on Mayor Kilpatrick. They ignore that without a resolute fight against the capitalists and their political representatives, it's impossible for the workers to resist.
. To what extent the city and school workers will be able to resist the cutbacks remains to be
seen. But no matter the immediate outcome, attacks on the workers will continue, and any steps
that can help organize the rank-and- file workers will put them in a better position for the
inevitable future clashes. <>
Last modified: April 28, 2005.