Detroit workers fight for jobs and pensions

Yesterday, a federal judge approved the bankruptcy imposed on Detroit by the state of Michigan.  He ruled that pension benefits could be cut, subject to his approval of the specific plan.  State-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s team has proposed to cut pension payments by 84%–the reported average pension of not quite $1,600 a month would become about $250 a month.  Applauding the court ruling, Orr outrageously claimed that, in the attack on workers’ pensions, “we’re trying to be very thoughtful, measured and humane about what we have to do.”  That is the class lie being told by Republican, Democratic, and non-partisan functionaries and politicians across the country in the service of capital’s war on the working class.  Read the News & Letters article below for a view from the other side of the class struggle that is raging.

From the November-December 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Detroit workers fight for jobs and pensions

Detroit—Just one day after Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr announced changes to city workers’ pensions and healthcare benefits, printed booklets arrived in the mail detailing them. Though Orr’s filing for bankruptcy for Detroit is still undergoing legal challenges, the benefits changes have clearly been long planned.

All workers below the age of 65 will no longer be offered health plans. Instead they will receive an extra $125 per month to purchase their own coverage. Medicare-eligible retirees will be offered “Medigap” plans. HMO plans will be free, but a premium will be charged for broader coverage.

Current employees’ pensions will be frozen, and no pensions offered to new hires. Aggressive efforts to reduce the city payroll by outsourcing jobs to private contractors will continue. The plan to turn the Water Department into a “public-private” entity includes eliminating 80% of the city workers currently employed there.

In response to the selling off of Detroit by capitalists anxious to profit from others’ misery, alternative visions and activism continue. An example comes from Detroit Public Schools Board of Education member and Mexican-American activist Elena Herrada. She wrote recently: “As a school board member, which is the canary in the mine of Detroit takeovers, I have seen first­hand the abuse of power. There has to be a truth campaign to counter the lies and half-truths piled on us by the media. We need to be in direct contact with each other to bear witness and share stories.

“There are big things coming up in Detroit: the City Council needs all the help they can get from selling what’s left of their souls, so if you can attend their meetings to help ward off the Barclay’s $350 million that Kevyn Orr is trying to borrow, please do. It’s like someone stole our ID and opened up endless credit cards, sold our homes and is now trying to take out loans in our name. This is like a giant identity theft that the banks are in on.…

“The same identity thieves now want to file for bankruptcy so we can’t get pensions long earned and promised, so they can give it to the banks. Having experienced emergency management of the Detroit Schools, I can tell you with absolute certainty that emergency managers do not get us out of debt.

“They got us into millions more debt and closed schools and have students piled up 45 and 50 deep in classrooms….Our educational situation is abysmal due to Emergency Creation brought to us by the state that thinks Black children’s best purpose is to funnel education money to the rich.

“We can beat this looting back if we stay organized and focused. It is hard and can be demoralizing at times, but we have the moral high ground …We can do this, and we will. See you at the barricades!”

—Susan Van Gelder

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