Posts tagged Michigan
Posts tagged Michigan
In March of this year, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law granting expanded powers to emergency managers to take control of city governments and school districts in financial distress.Weeks later, Benton Harbor, a small, predominantly African-American city in Southwest Michigan, was the first city to be taken over under the new law. In April, at the Benton Harbor City Commission’s first meeting after appointment of Emergency Financial Manager Joe Harris, the terms were laid out starkly: Elected city officials are powerless except to call meetings to order, adjourn them, and approve meeting minutes. The Emergency Financial Manager, meanwhile, is empowered to remove elected officials from office at will, disburse all government funding without oversight, sell off government property, and modify or terminate any contract. With this pronouncement, the much-vaunted American ideal of representative democracy was declared null and void in Benton Harbor.
The story attracted national attention, including coverage on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show. The following week, on April 27, 200 people marched through the streets of Benton Harbor demanding repeal of the Emergency Financial Manager law and a restoration of demcratic rights to Benton Harbor’s citizens.
2 months later, on June 18, the people of Benton Harbor came out in the streets again to commemorate 8 years of government repression and popular resistance. June 16 marked the 8 year anniversary of the Benton Harbor uprising of 2003, in which the US Army was brought in to repress a community outraged by the killing of a youngBlack man, Terrance Shurn, in a police chase. The Terrance “T-Shirt” Shurn Memorial Rally featured live music by several local musicians and speeches by activists including Fred Hampton, Jr., son of the slain Black Panther leader and chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee.
The rally was emceed by Rev. Edward Pinkney, who also shared a poem he wrote in honor of Shurn and the people of Benton Harbor. For over a decade, Rev. Pinkney has been a tireless fighter for social and economic justice in Benton Harbor. In 1999, he founded the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), a grassroots community organization that monitored the corrupt political and judicial system in Berrien County and advocated for the oppressed.
A month after the uprising of 2003, Rev. Pinkney and BANCO led a nonviolent march of over 200 citizens demanding justice and an end to police brutality in Benton Harbor. In 2005, BANCO organized a recall election against City Commissioner Glenn Yarbrough, who had acted as a mouthpiece for the interests of the Whirlpool Corporation headquartered in the affluent neighboring town of St. Joseph. After the recall election succeeded by a vote of 297 to 246, the local powers that be promptly overturned the people’s will claiming electoral fraud. Rev. Pinkney was arrested and promptly charged with four felony counts and one misdemeanor; after the first trial resulted in a hung jury, Rev. Pinkney was retried in 2007 and convicted by an all white jury (Benton Harbor’s population is 94% Black).
The corporate assault on the people of Benton Harbor continued while Rev. Pinkney was shuffled from one prison to another throughout Michigan. Real estate company Cornerstone Alliance, a subsidiary of Whirlpool, used its influence to annex Benton Harbor land to turn into a playground for the wealthy. Meanwhile, fear of reprisal kept most citizens of Benton Harbor silent. Cornerstone and Whirlpool stirred Benton Harbor’s citizens to action again when a plan was announced to steal Jean Klock Park and use the land to build a private golf course and country club. Jean Klock Park had special significance for the people of Benton Harbor; in 1917 John and Carrie Klock willed the lakeside park to the people of Benton Harbor, writing ““It is our wish that the lakefront always be preserved in its natural state and be a playground for the children and a bathing beach for all the people.” In 2010, the opening of the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Club was met with a vocal protest by over 100 chanting “Jack Nicklaus go home!” and “Jean Klock Park was deeded to the people!”
The passage of the Emergency Financial Manager law dealt one more harsh blow to the people of Benton Harbor. But with this defeat are planted the seeds of a new revolt – Benton Harbor’s citizens are no longer afraid, because they now have nothing left to lose. After years of being ruled by repressive tactics, the uprising of 2003 remains a powerful memory in the people’s consciousness.
 “August 10 Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course demonstration” http://bhbanco.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_arc hive.html
There might be a tendency in some to look at the recent attacks on organized labor in Wisconsin, Michigan, and elsewhere as products of a couple of right-wing crackpots who managed to get themselves elected, but a close look at recent history demonstrates that the environment for organized labor has been hostile for quite some time. Unions are, of course, one of the very few remaining counter-balances to corporate power, which makes them a near constant target of both legislation and propaganda. The Michigan Daily’s coverage of the current organization drive of graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) should come as no surprise then, as it is characterized by either lazy reporting, outright deception, or both. What is most disheartening about this coverage is that the facts are all available, yet The Daily still decided to publish an editorial against the drive with scant attention to the reality of the situation.
The editorial, published on February 21st, 2011 states that, “the Graduate Employees’ Organization is lobbying to bring graduate student research assistants under the umbrella of its union, and the University is declining to negotiate this issue with GEO.” This opening is false, and sets the tone for the entire piece. It is true that the University has decided not to discuss GSRAs at the bargaining table, but GEO is not seeking to include GSRAs into their contract. Rather, they are asking the University to recognize the democratic rights of GSRAs to organize as employees of the University of Michigan, and the University has paid this request no mind.
Just as the events of Wisconsin aren’t the isolated actions of a fringe element in American politics, but of a coordinated and deliberate attempt to destroy unions, neither is the GSRA campaign to organize the result of a whim of the GEO leadership. It is the result of workers attempting to take some control over the conditions of their employment. In the 1970s, when GEO first came into existence as one of the first graduate employee unions in the country, the drive was to organize all graduate students that were also employees of the university. That included the 300 or so graduate students who were research assistants at the time. The University’s stance, which was subsequently supported by a court ruling, was that research assistants were not in fact employees of the University, and therefore could not join an employee collective bargaining unit. Today, there are upwards of 2000 research assistants at the University of Michigan, and many have problems that sound remarkably similar to the problems of employees: compensation and workload, vacation, and the conflation of academic and paid research work, not to mention the fact that budget cuts are likely, and the easiest targets of such cuts are workers outside of a bargaining unit.
The Daily might avail themselves of this brief history, and to take the current nationwide assault on the labor movement into account. Their recent editorial is only the latest articulation of what seems to be a very limited grasp of all the factors at play. They also make it difficult to chalk this up to mere journalistic laziness. Indeed, readers of the most recent editorial might come away with the idea that there is only one authority on this matter: the University. The editorial quotes the associate vice provost Jeff Frumkin twice, but includes no voice from GSRAs or GEO. In so doing they assure that the half-truths that rest as this editorial’s premise remain uncorrected and the voices of all the parties involved are left to be interpreted through the slipshod assertion of the editorial board that states:
“In an interview with the Daily, Frumkin said the University doesn’t think it’s in GSRAs’ best interest to join GEO because a collective bargaining agreement wouldn’t properly address the specific issues related to each GSRA research project. Many GSRAs agree with this sentiment and have indicated that they don’t want to join GEO.”
Many GSRAs probably do agree with this sentiment. In most unionization campaigns there are people who side with management, typically those who have little to complain about, and perhaps an unwillingness to empathize with their fellow workers. What is also true is that many GSRAs disagree with this sentiment and have decided to voice their support for unionization, but this latter fact does not make it into the editorial. Ultimately the Daily calls for the very same position GEO has sought to put forth at the bargaining table, admitting that “If GSRAs want to campaign for unionization that is their right.” But if this is actually The Daily’s position why not ask the University to agree to a democratic process? And why follow this claim of respect for the right to organize with a decidedly biased opinion on whether they should organize or not? The editors write:
“There are undoubtedly situations in which a GSRA may require assistance in dealing with a faculty member or the conditions of his or her work at the University, but unionizing may not be the most effective solution. Instead, the University must be willing to help GSRAs by expanding or implementing necessary resources.”
This passage becomes even more troubling when considering the title of the piece “One union doesn’t fit all” Of course, those involved in labor struggle know that a collective voice is by far the most effective way of leveraging the power of management, who, despite The Daily’s distorted view of the world, will never extend themselves for their employees unless put under pressure to do so. A collective voice provides that pressure. Many GSRAs do require assistance, and that is why they have decided to organize. The Michigan Daily would do well to pay more than lip service to the notion that GSRAs have the right to organize and let their democratic voice be heard, both in the pages of their publication, and by the University.
By: Will Hutchinson
In April, Ann Arbor School District bus drivers voted overwhelmingly to reject a plan by the district to privatize school bus services. After the news broke that district administrators were looking at
outsourcing of transportation and custodial services to private corporations, a handful of bus driver activists began asking questions. The school district made spurious claims that privatization could save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Bus drivers debunked these claims, showing that similar privatization efforts elsewhere had resulted in minimal long-term savings, coupled with a major decline in customer service and satisfaction. Privatization would strip workers of their union representation, force them to take a pay cut and undermine the bus drivers’ relationships with the community they serve. Bus drivers and comm nity supporters let the school board know they did not support privatization.
The bus drivers’ victory in April was quietly undermined over the summer, however. Although they will no longer seek privatization, the school board had decided to consolidate bus sevices with other districts in Washtenaw County. All Ann Arbor school bus drivers were sent pink slips and encouraged to re-apply through the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. They would no longer have a union, and would have to accept a pay cut of approximately 13%.
The vast majority of laid off bus drivers were rehired into the new non-union positions. However, as Washtenaw Avenue was lined with yard signs advertising open bus driver positions, the four core leaders of the struggle against bus service privatization received rejection letters.
And as children returned to school in September, the harsh realities of the administration’s quick fix cost cutting measure became apparent
to all. School buses failed to pick children up from designated bus stops, many children arrived late to school, and pa ents panicked as children were as much as 90 minutes late arriving home in the
afternoon – and no authorities could be reached to help parents determine the whereabouts of their kids.
Savings also proved elusive. According to Chai Montgomery, who spearheaded efforts to fight privatization and now finds himself unemployed, “while drivers are limited to (an average) 13% less pay than now, supervisors will earn more at the WISD than they were able to in their districts…let’s not forget that.” Another anonymous WISD employee wrote on the annarbor.com message board: “I work for WISD now, and i feel used by this company. They are paying retired drivers 22.00 a hour … and im getting 13.00 to do something ive been doing
for the past 6 years. I know my kids, i know my route, and i have a excellent driving record. Why am i getting such low pay to do the same job they are doing?”
Writes Montgomery, “Union-busting (and pie-in-the-sky savings delusions) that is why Ann Arbor went to WISD for transportation.”
School bus drivers in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District are now fighting to regain union representation. Chai Montgomery and other activists who were not rehired are playing an active role in these efforts, while continuing the fight to win their jobs back.
By Ted McTaggart