The Spark

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

Detroit Budget:
An Attack on City Services and Union Workers

Jun 4, 2012

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and the City Council agreed to slash the city’s budget by 250 million dollars, or 18%, and lay off nearly 2,600 workers.

These cuts are a direct attack on the city’s residents and city workers. The city’s politicians plan to completely eliminate the Detroit Department of Human Services (DDHS), privatize the transportation and lighting departments, and close the city health department after six months. They also cut the recreation budget by more than 36%, and reduced the budgets for the police and fire departments.

The closure of the DDHS means that funding for Head Start, if it ever happens, will be left up to an agency appointed by the federal government. Community Block Grants, which provide help to the city’s poorest residents, will be turned over to an outside agency appointed by the State of Michigan. Services currently provided by the Health Department will be turned over to a “public health institute,” funded by the federal government and private foundations.

In all these instances, what services survive will be provided by lower-paid nonunion workers with fewer benefits and no pensions.

The one department whose budget was increased was public lighting. But that’s only so the city can upgrade the lighting system before handing it over to private hands.

At the same time the politicians openly discuss completely shutting off lighting and no longer providing other city services to areas they deem “distressed.” As it currently stands, 40% of city streetlights are broken. The city is saying to people in distressed areas, “You’re on your own.”

It’s all part of what the politicians call their plans to “shrink” the city. The ultimate goal can be seen from a recent conference the Detroit Public Schools held, along with organizations like Bing’s Detroit Works program and the Michigan Association of Planning. The conference was aimed at offering closed public school sites for sale and to show investors, developers and others how to get help to negotiate a deal. The City Council is already discussing changing zoning ordinances to allow buyers to develop old public school sites.

Forcing residents, mostly people with little money, out of “distressed” areas will make it easier for some of these same investors and developers to buy up the land at low prices for their own use. In other words, “shrinking” the city is really a way to hand it over to the wealthy.

It’s obvious from the many meetings that have been held that city residents are angry and workers are outraged about the cuts. Many union workers are considering a strike. “We’ve told our members it may get to that point,” said John Riehl, president of a union local representing workers in the Detroit Water and Sewage Department. “We’ve made it clear. We’ve had discussions at our union meetings. People are hoping it doesn’t happen, but it’s really up to the other side.”

In fact, it’s only through a further mobilization such as this that the population can hope to stop this monstrous attack.