. From Detroit Workers' Voice #50, June 20, 2005. (CV #36, Sept. 2005).
. The Detroit political establishment wants to balance the city budget on the backs of the city workers and the city's working class and poor residents. Mayor Kilpatrick has carried out mass layoffs of city workers and calls for huge cuts in their wages and benefits. City Council voted unanimously to override the Mayor's budget for their own budget which also demands massive concessions from city workers. Meanwhile the main candidates running for mayor, Kilpatrick, Councilwoman McPhail, and ex-Mayor Archer's henchman, Freeman Hendrix, agree that it is the workers and poor who must sacrifice to solve the budget woes.
. To hell with that! Why shouldn't the rich do the sacrificing? Why shouldn't the banks, who make a fortune financing the city debt, sacrifice through a moratorium on debt payments? Why shouldn't the corporate fat cats, who grew rich exploiting the workers of Detroit, give up their tax abatements and have their personal and corporate taxes increased? Why shouldn't Kilpatrick and the top city bureaucrats give up their luxurious lifestyles? And why shouldn't the resources of the state and federal governments be used to provide the working masses of Detroit and other cities with decent public services?
. But none of this can happen unless the working people and poor take to the streets. We need to bolster the city workers' struggle against concessions. We need to back protests and strikes that may break out. We also need mass actions by workers and poor people throughout the city who will be victimized by declining services.
. Detroit public schools are also slated for budget cuts. We need solidarity with the teachers and staff who are threatened with another round of mass layoffs by school board officials.
. City and school employees must not only overcome the capitalist city establishment, but their
own timid union leaders. Our struggle must not put any stock in either City Council or the Mayor
because the main dispute between them is how to attack the workers. Workers need their own
stand that confronts all the pro-cutbacks politicians.
Kilpatrick and City Council vs. the workers
. Kilpatrick has already laid-off some 700 city workers and threatens thousands of more layoffs. He is demanding huge concessions from the workers including a 10% pay cut and increased health care payments. Together, these concessions would effectively reduce the monthly income of a city worker by a whopping $500/month according to Detroit's Auditor General, Joe Harris. This is equal to a quarter of the wages of a $25,000/year city worker. The decimation of city workers naturally means the already poor city services will take another hit, too.
. City Council is also championing a major assault on the city workers and public services. Their main complaint about Kilpatrick's budget proposal is that it doesn't cut spending enough. So in addition to Kilpatrick's call for wage and health care concessions from non-police and fire department employees, they are calling for slashing these departments too. True the Council restored a few million dollars for some social programs. But they are asking for many times that in concessions and cutbacks.
. Sacrificing fire-fighting capabilities shows Council doesn't even care if the city burns to the ground. As for police budget cuts, Council pretends their cuts won't mean less police on patrol. But even if no patrols were cut, a large police force is not the answer to high crime rates. Crime can only be reduced by improving social conditions. Moreover, the Detroit police department has an ongoing legacy of police brutality, strikebreaking and harassing protesters.
. The Council's budget again exposes the so-called friends of the masses on City Council. While
some Councilpersons had long called for concessions and cutbacks, others alleged they would
defend city workers and the poor. In reality, these false friends of the workers have been plotting
against them. Take Councilwoman Sharon McPhail. She postures against the Mayor's budget
cuts, but announced in the Detroit News that she'd cut 6,000 city employees in one year. Or take
JoAnn Watson. She is supposed to be "pro-worker" but as far back as January her web site called
for "10% salary cut among all City of Detroit employees" in addition to a hiring freeze that
would eliminate jobs through attrition.
"Equality of sacrifice" exposed
. In an attempt to get workers to accept concessions, Councilpersons like Watson have pushed the
fraud of "equality of sacrifice". They say if workers sacrifice, so should the banks and high city
officials. There was no equality in the actual plans of these Councilpeople, however, as they only
involved token gestures by the fat cats while the workers were required to make giant sacrifices.
The City Council's own unanimously-approved budget further exposes "equality of sacrifice"
with its call for huge worker concessions. Meanwhile, according to the Michigan Citizen
newspaper of June 5-11, Council president Maryann Mahaffey, supposedly one of the most
progressive councilpersons, "said the council has not asked banks and bondholders of r a debt
moratorium." So behind the facade of "equality of sacrifice" Council has united to crush city
workers, but won't ask the banks to sacrifice a penny.
The receivership threat
. Undoubtedly, the Kilpatrick administration and City Council will justify these cutbacks as a means to avoid receivership. If the budget isn't balanced, state officials could use this as a pretext to take over the running of the city and impose harsh measures. Receivership is a real threat and should be opposed. Undoubtedly the state officials would impose harsh cutbacks on the masses. But by voluntarily carrying out harsh anti-worker measures, Kilpatrick and Council are doing just what the pro-receivership state officials wants. This is like opposing a murderer by committing suicide.
. The only real alternative for the masses is to fight both receivership and cutbacks by local
Union leader treachery
. Unfortunately, the bulk of the city worker union leadership has done very little to mobilize the
rank-and-file for struggle. The main union leaders boycotted two anti-cutback demonstrations in
April. Even the rate mobilizations get undermined by the union leadership placing hopes in this
or that politician. For instance, on Feb. 21 hundreds of bus drivers attend a City Council meeting
to oppose cutbacks. But when ATWU union president Henry Gaffney took the floor, he carried
on a friendly exchange with pro-concessions Councilwoman JoAnn Watson. Union leaders have
also been agreeable to concessions under the "equality of sacrifice" fraud. The failure of City
Council to ask for even token sacrifices from the banks may force the union leaders to offer a bit
of resistance. But if the workers are to put up a serious fight, they will have to develop their own
rank-and-file organizations. Activists and workers interested in helping the city workers should
encourage all initiatives of the rank and file.
Hypocrisy of the Democrats
. The union bureaucrats are enchanted with one or another Democratic Party politician. But who
is it that's carrying out the capitalist onslaught in Detroit? Detroit politics is solidly in the hands
of the Democratic Party. Kilpatrick and various Councilpersons denounce Bush and federal
cutbacks to the cities. But they handle the city budget like Bush handles the federal budget. Both
give the corporations and rich individuals all kinds of tax breaks and handouts, while demanding
endless sacrifice from the masses. Kilpatrick, like Bush, is also a fan of privatization. Just as
Bush has turned the federal budget into a treasure chest for the likes of Halliburton, so Kilpatrick
and previously Democratic mayor in Detroit have allowed the city treasury to be plundered by
businesses doing work previously done by city workers. Just as Bush serves corporate America,
so Kilpatrick (and City Council) are sold out to local capitalist power brokers like GM,
Compuware, Mike Ilitch, etc.
Build a class movement against concessions/cutbacks
. Workers have no friends at the Manoogian Mansion or City Council chambers. Both Kilpatrick and the Council want to scapegoat the city workers and further ruin public services for the masses in Detroit.
. It's time to stand up to these servants of the rich! We need our own class stand on the budget crisis. The political servants of the rich want to make the city workers and masses of Detroit bear the burden of the crisis. We workers must reply:
No concessions for city workers!
No to the cutbacks in public services!
Make the rich pay for the crisis!
Make the banks, corporations and other fat cats cough up the money to balance the budget!
. But we need more than a stand. We need to develop new organizations of struggle. The leaders of the city unions, with rare exception, are tied to the capitalist establishment and don't want a serious struggle. Workers need organization that's independent of the capitalist politicians, Republican and Democratic alike. So it is up to militant rank-and-file workers to develop networks of struggle in their workplaces, unions and communities.
. Whether the workers are able to defeat this round of cutbacks and concessions remains to be seen. But we must take the opportunity to start rebuilding the fight of the masses against the capitalist tycoons and their budget-slashing politicians. Every time the workers in one city stand up to the capitalist onslaught, it encourages workers in other cities. That's how we can start rebuilding the type of powerful class movement that can really hit back at the bipartisan onslaught of Bush and the Democrats.
Create rank-and-file organization!
Build an independent workers' movement! <>
Last modified: Oct. 15, 2005.