The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Public Workers and the General Public Under Attack

Apr 12, 2010

The following is excerpted from a talk at a recent SPARK public meeting in Detroit, Michigan.

At a recent demonstration, a State of Michigan employee asked the crowd: “As a public employee, do you feel you’re walking around with a target on your back?” The crowd shouted, “Yes!”

That same target is on the back of every public sector worker and teacher and on the backs of working people in general.

State of Michigan workers have lost pay through furlough days. A new two tier healthcare plan will give new hires such reduced health coverage they may face bankruptcy if a family member has a major illness. Older workers have been forced out on retirement that they didn’t want to take.

When wages, benefits and jobs of public workers are slashed again and again, services we all need get worse. Money for roads is being cut; money for schools is being cut; revenue sharing money is cut. This leaves cities with less fire and emergency protection. Schools all over the state are laying people off.

Draining the Public Schools of Money

At Carsten Elementary School in Detroit, 98% of the student body come from low income families. Yet the school is thriving! At this school, 100% of 3rd and 4th graders met or exceeded state goals in math and 97% did in reading.

How did they do it? The school functions as a social services center for the neighborhood. Staff organizes for the kids to be able to get dental work, vision care and health care. Their parents can get help from the Legal Aid and Defender Association. At Christmas, local companies sponsor gifts for the kids. A kindergarten teacher at the school says: “We are the American Red Cross of the lower east side.” All this has been accomplished because people came together as a community to back up the teachers.

So what is Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools “Emergency Manager,” doing with a public school that is doing amazing things? He’s targeting it for destruction.

Also closing in June is a nationally known high school with a 90% graduation rate and a 100% college acceptance rate. This is the Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant girls and teen parents.

Less than five months after Detroit voters passed a 500 million dollar school construction bond, nearly half the 18 neighborhood schools Bobb promised are now headed for closure or cut-backs.

Closing neighborhood schools means a further distance for kids to walk, and more kids will drop out. Bobb’s calls to end social promotion at the 8th grade will lead to more kids dropping out. Keeping 14, 15 and 16 year old kids in 8th grade will humiliate most into dropping out BEFORE they ever get to high school. That way they don’t count as high school drop-outs in the statistics.

The public schools in Detroit have been strangled to death through cuts. Cuts to supplies and textbooks. Cuts of teachers leaving overloaded classrooms.

In 2005 there were 260 public schools in Detroit. By 2012 Bobb plans only 117. That would mean more than half of all Detroit Public Schools would have closed within seven years, 74 of them this year or next.

At the same time, Bobb and a team of corporate foundations apparently just got “approval” for 70 new privately run schools.

In other words, school children are being attacked so private interests can get fat off running their own schools.

Another Target on Our Backs

The media, backing up Detroit Mayor Bing, constantly attack City of Detroit workers for being “selfish” – because so far most of their unions have refused 10% pay cuts.

Behind those attacks on workers are the attacks on services. City bus drivers and bus service has been cut.

There is another campaign pushed by the bosses’ media right now: “Shrink the city of Detroit.” Certain neighborhoods have already been pushed into an early death by conscious neglect of services. Others are soon to follow.

This will free up huge areas of the city to make them available in the future for developers.

When the city talks about developers being interested in setting up “urban farms,” this is nothing but a cover – for now. If real estate prices recover later, “farmland” will easily be converted to development for profit by the people owning the land today. The banks and private equity funds buying up this land are speculating on our future.

Pretending to Create Jobs ...

The last years have seen a steady diet of tax breaks given to corporations, justified by the lie they create jobs. Never have, never will.

A good illustration comes from a book called: The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Jobs Creation. It takes place in Massachusetts, but it’s the same all over.

Back in 1995, Massachusetts’ largest employer – Raytheon – threatened to leave the state. They wanted tax breaks from the government and concessions from their workers.

Raytheon carried out a media campaign – selling these tax cuts as a way to create jobs – and a year later Raytheon had its tax breaks.

Raytheon paid $573,539 for a lobbying campaign. For this, they got tax breaks that gave the company 21 million dollars a year – every year. That’s an astronomical return on investment.

They also extorted the concessions they wanted from their workers.

In less than two years, Raytheon used the money they saved by concessions and tax breaks to buy up other companies – after which, Raytheon eliminated 21% of its workforce in Massachusetts.

Raytheon, after all, NEVER promised “no layoffs.”

Tax Breaks Create Budget Deficits

The media today pretend that states are suffering big budget deficits because of today’s bad economy. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Below the surface and seldom discussed are the real structural reasons for the budget deficits. These include: continual tax breaks to large corporations that drain the budget; the complete elimination of certain types of taxes on corporations; the political choice to spend money on prisons instead of social programs and education, the use of government money to provide loans and subsidies to business.

The tax breaks pile up, one on top of the other. They accumulate to huge proportions, like some out of control blob from a science fiction movie.

The recent little scandal about a convicted embezzler getting a nine million dollar tax break from the State of Michigan was classic. While the media has been making a big deal about this guy, he is small potatoes. The biggest corporations, like GM, Ford and Chrysler, have laid off workers and made off with billions. They have never been held under scrutiny. When communities have tried, their attempts were squashed in the courts.

Because of this out of control blob called tax breaks to corporations, the tax burden has shifted over three decades. Working people now pay double and triple the share of their income on state and local taxes compared to what the wealthiest one% pay.

Because of this out of control blob – we are told – there is supposedly no other choice: public services must be destroyed. Schools must be destroyed. The working class must get used to a lower quality of life. It’s the budget, the politicians say. There is nothing we can do about the budget!

What a “perfect storm” we are in!

The wealthy of this society have created these budget deficits by robbing treasuries of all the states – and now they are attempting to solve THEIR economic crisis at the expense of everyone else, using the public treasury once again to help them do it.

They put a target on the back of every government worker in Michigan, and really, in the whole country. A target on the back of every teacher, every school bus driver, every custodian, everyone who works for the city, the county and the state. They target you because they feel YOU have THEIR money.

It’s the same for private sector workers. The financial and industrial sectors have gone through a crisis and what you have in your pockets, the wealthy feel, that belongs to them. Their greed knows no bounds.

Fix It!

To borrow a phrase from a Saturday Night Live sketch, the answer to an economy that is grinding to a halt is: “Fix it!” Fix the broken water mains. Fix the broken bridges. Fix the broken roads. Fix mass transit. Tear down the abandoned houses that are a danger. Renovate what can be restored.

It makes sense that a place that maintains its infrastructure would have low unemployment. Why? Maybe because public money is spent on hiring people to fix things instead of on bankers’ bonuses!

The economy has ground to a standstill because not enough ordinary people have money in their pockets to buy consumer goods. Put people to work. Fix it!

Because of all the abandoned property, Detroit is re-foresting. Build beautiful planned parks. For human beings, it makes sense to have room to breathe.

Fix the schools. THROW MONEY AT THE PROBLEM. Smaller class sizes help. Training teachers in easy classroom discipline helps. Acting on the latest research helps. Art and music classes DO help.

If neither of the two political parties does such things – which could get the economy running again – it’s because they serve the interests of those who own the corporations, the capitalist class.

The working class has no reason to expect an improvement coming from these people. Workers, with the own forces, can reorganize the whole society to meet their needs and the needs of the entire population.