By Abayomi Azikiwe
Published Aug 25, 2010 3:08 PM
The coming together of the United Auto Workers and the Rainbow/Push Coalition for the Aug. 28 “March for Jobs, Justice and Peace” in Detroit represents the potential for a re-emergence of the African-American and labor alliance that proved critical from the 1930s through the 1960s in movements winning significant concessions and social advances for workers’ and civil rights.
Both the Flint sit-down strike at General Motors in 1937 and the campaign to win recognition for the UAW at Ford in 1941 were pivotal in building a viable trade union movement in the United States. Despite the impact of the Cold War and the anti-communist hysteria starting in the late 1940s through the early 1970s, African Americans and their progressive allies were able to fight racism and sexism within industry as well as inside the unions themselves.
With the large-scale restructuring of capitalism in the U.S. and around the world starting in the 1970s and extending to the present period, both the labor movement and the African-American struggle have faced formidable challenges in efforts to reorient and regroup their fighting forces.
The ruling class has placed the workers and the oppressed into a defensive posture wherein the recognized leadership of the labor unions and civil rights organizations frequently advance demands based upon the political terms set by the bosses and the elected officials.
But accepting the so-called permanency of capitalism and imperialism, as the ruling class would have us believe, and the class structures that have evolved under these exploitative systems, has not resulted in any real gains for the working class and the oppressed. The opposite has been the case, where the masses have been further impoverished and marginalized in terms of decision-making and administrative authority over the direction of the national economy.
The current economic crisis thus requires a more militant approach that places the concerns and interests of the majority of the people at the forefront of any political program aimed at reversing the loss of jobs, wages and social benefits won through the valiant struggles that have been waged since the 1930s.
Such a political posture must be based on an objective assessment of the present situation. Detroit provides a stark example of the current plight of the working class and peoples of color in the United States.
Detroit: Epicenter of crisis
Detroit, with an 81 percent African-American majority population, is considered the epicenter of the U.S. economic crisis with its high rates of unemployment, home foreclosures, lack of health care, poverty and police repression. These economic conditions must also be viewed within the context of the unresolved national question and its inseparability from the class struggle.
The actual unemployment rate in the city is approaching 50 percent, according to a Detroit News article from Dec. 16. This is despite the fact that the official rate is slightly less than 30 percent because those who are underemployed, discouraged or have returned to school are excluded.
The article states “The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that for the year that ended in September 2009, Michigan’s official unemployment rate was 12.6 percent. Using the broadest definition of unemployment, the state unemployment rate was 20.9 percent, 66 percent higher than the official rate.” The article pointed out that “Since Detroit’s official rate for October 2009 was 27 percent, that broader rate pushes the city’s rate to as high as 44.8 percent.”
This high unemployment rate is reinforced by other conditions in the city. “For a variety of reasons — access to transportation, job availability and work skills — an estimated 48.5 percent of male Detroiters ages 20 to 64 didn’t have a job in 2008, according to census figures. For Michigan, it is 26.6 percent; for the United States, 21.7 percent.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics stated in a report issued Aug. 5: “The Detroit area’s largest supersector — trade, transportation, and utilities — posted the area’s largest employment loss, down 9,200 from June 2009 to June 2010, a 2.8 percent decrease. This decline continued the supersector’s unbroken stretch of job losses dating back to April 2001. Nationally, employment in trade, transportation, and utilities declined 0.6 percent from June a year ago.”
The high rates of foreclosures, lack of health care and the crisis in education facing Detroiters are directly linked to the lack of jobs with decent incomes and benefits.
Right to a job, home, utilities
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs fights for a halt to all home seizures, the throwing of people out of their apartments and flats, and the shutoff of essential services such as electricity, heating and water.
Although the state and municipal administrations have fiercely resisted the imposition of a moratorium, the coalition has been successful through mass actions and legal work in saving the homes of numerous families and in preventing homelessness for several thousand people living in multiple-dwelling structures.
During the 1930s, the Unemployed Councils and other mass organizations put up blockades in front of people’s homes in order to stop evictions. If evictions took place they would mobilize the communities to put people back into their homes.
This same model has been implemented in Detroit in a few cases, but the large-scale application of this form of struggle would require a much broader and militant movement that instills into the consciousness of working people that their right to a home supersedes the laws which give banks and landlords authority to throw people into the streets.
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition has picketed DTE Energy because of the termination of lights, heating and water services that resulted in the deaths of more than 12 people in Detroit over the last year. The coalition actively supported a lawsuit that forced the utility giant to restore electrical services at an apartment building in Highland Park during the summer of 2009.
Yet Gov. Jennifer Granholm, to whom a direct appeal was made last winter to impose a moratorium on utility shutoffs for the winter, and who still won’t implement a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, has refused to halt these practices that have caused the deaths of Detroiters and others in the state.
Massive school closings and downsizing of tens of thousands of educational employees are directly related to the financial crisis of capitalism. In Detroit approximately 80 percent of the state revenue earmarked for education is utilized to pay off massive corporate-imposed debts to the banks.
The Moratorium NOW! Coalition calls for a halt to the payment of debt service to the banks and the utilization of these funds to rehire teachers, custodians, administrative employees and social workers as well as the reinstatement of sports, music and other programs that are essential in implementing quality education programs for youth.
Detroit has also witnessed a dramatic rise in police brutality and misconduct. Since there is no hope for the workers and oppressed under the current capitalist crisis, the state has stepped up its repressive apparatus in an effort to prevent people from effectively organizing a militant fightback movement.
This police repression was exemplified in the assassination by the FBI of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in October 2009 and the shooting death by Detroit police of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones on May 16, both of which have gone unpunished by the state.
As the workers in Greece and South Africa have demonstrated through recent strikes and mass actions, the labor and civil rights organizations must take the position that they are not responsible for the economic crisis and therefore should not be obligated to pay for the failed policies of the bosses. The masses must act in their social and political interests by organizing independently of both ruling class parties.
The upholding of the property rights of the corporations has been universal among both Democratic and Republican politicians. Workers and the oppressed need their own political party that speaks directly to the interests of labor, people of color and all the oppressed.
The writer is editor of the Pan-African News Wire and a leader in the Moratorium NOW! Coalition.
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