Defend Our City, Our Lives, Our Children’s Futures
Realize Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream for America in Detroit
Workers from the Detroit Waste Water Plant walked out mid-shift on Sunday morning September 30th. We are asking everyone to come down to the Detroit Waste Water plant at 9300 West Jefferson to support the strike. We need the help of the community to strengthen our picket lines and our resolve. We need to send the message to the powers that be, early and often during this strike, that the people of Detroit are tired of being dictated to, and victimized by the rich and the powerful, and that we intend to win this fight.
On the surface, the aim of this strike is to win Detroit city workers a good contract and to save our union. But in reality this strike is much more than an economic action to defend living standards. We are striking to restore the dignity and pride of Detroit. We believe the youth of this city deserve a bright and hopeful future. We are asking our families, friends, neighbors, and fellow union members to unite with us so that we can win this strike and use that victory to unleash a new wave of struggles strong enough and politically clear enough to restore public education, our neighborhoods, and most importantly to restore the confidence, pride and belief in ourselves and our communities that years of relentless attacks have taken from us.
We love Detroit and its people. We are proud, determined, tough and stubborn as all get out. We are Detroit. This strike gives the people of Detroit a much needed and long awaited opportunity to change the balance of power in our favor. If our strike becomes Detroit’s strike, we can win so much more than a fair contract.
Detroit is strong but we lack an organized and popular leadership prepared to defend our futures. If we can come together and win this strike, we can, through the struggle, create a new battle-tested leadership ready and able to take our city back. This is the only way to revitalize the labor movement and rebuild Dr. King’s civil rights movement.
Objectively, we have had the power for some time to defeat the suburban business interests, the billionaires, and the politicians and judges who love to control Detroit, but hate the people of Detroit, and would never make Detroit their home. But we have lacked the unity, organization and leadership we need to win. This strike provides an opportunity for us to resolve these shortcomings. New leaders are certain to emerge from this struggle, most importantly a new young generation of black and Latina/o leaders who feel inextricably bound to Detroit. For years the people of Detroit have wanted black and other minority political leaders who would always speak for and to the people of Detroit, instead of for and to the rich and powerful. Getting young people to come down to the picket lines and learn how to lead through this struggle could finally give us the movement and the leaders we have so desperately needed.
A strike to save the unions and preserve a decent living standard for working people and America’s shrinking middle class can unite Detroit and its neighboring poor, working-class and middle-class communities in a common struggle for our shared interests.
Standing together, fighting our common enemies, we have a real chance of overcoming the racism and mistrust that have always curtailed our chances to win, and have been the most successful weapon that the rich and powerful possess. Fighting as one, we could finally put an end to the relentless racist attacks Detroit has endured which have impoverished and weakened the strength of both our city and our suburbs.
We therefore, call on all those who are sick of feeling powerless and tired of Detroit being disregarded, disrespected and dismantled by the powers-that-be, to join our picket lines starting on Monday morning. All that anger, that rage which is always simmering, which is now expressed against our friends and families or turned inward in all kinds of self-destructive ways, can finally have a positive and productive outlet. The loneliness and hopelessness we feel fighting as isolated individuals can be replaced by the feelings of power and belonging that only a collective fight for our shared futures can evoke.
Fighting collectively is the most powerful antidote to depression and despair. Walking the picket line is fun. Every truck or car or person we turn away allows every picketer to feel our power. Building this joint labor and civil rights movement can be the greatest achievement of our lives. To the youth who we know will fight with us, we say this is your chance to lead. Seize this opportunity and you will give us all new hope and a greater will to fight.
In the summer of 1963, Dr. King led a march down Woodward to build support for the historic August March on Washington. Dr. King’s aim was to win civil rights, freedom and equality for every American. The 1963 March on Washington helped build a movement strong enough to win numerous legal reforms, most importantly the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In 1967, the people of Detroit were tired of winning reforms that were not being carried out. Black Detroit, still chafing under the bit of racism, rioted.
Dr. King explained how riots were another expression of the civil rights movement, saying “When you close facilities, slash jobs, abuse power, discriminate, drive people into deeper poverty and shoot people dead while refusing to provide answers or justice, the people will rise up and express their anger and frustration if you refuse to hear their cries. A riot is the language of the unheard.”
After the 1967 riots, all kinds of social reforms were implemented that brought the dream of Dr. King a step closer to becoming reality.
Our society continues to move backwards. So many of us, perhaps most of all the Latina/o and immigrant communities, feel the crushing weight of the new Jim Crow every day of our lives. We desperately need a new civil rights movement ready to start where Dr. King left off. This strike will take us a step forward to achieving that aim.
Last November, right-wing Republican Federal Judge Sean Cox, not surprisingly the brother of ex-Attorney General Mike Cox, issued an order which decimated the basic rights of the unions representing DWSD workers. It was aimed especially at the largest and most militant and progressive union, AFSCME Local 207. Rather than dealing with the chronic understaffing, lack of training, and broken down equipment at the wastewater plant, Cox ordered elected full-time union officers back on the job so they could no longer administer the union. They slashed seniority rights and allowed unlimited privatization. Now, management has signed a no-bid $48 million contract with consultants to cut 81% of the Department’s jobs.
The union has been trying to negotiate a contract under these restraints, but management is only intent on smashing our unions. Management’s offer is getting worse, not better. They are now demanding that the union sign a contract which denies the right of workers to meet with their steward concerning discipline. Management wants the right to reclassify anyone and move them into whatever union management likes, or to no union at all.
They are asking Cox to sever the last remaining ties between the Detroit and DWSD, including any obligation to pay a “living wage.” This amounts to stealing DWSD from Detroit and giving it to outside contractor corporations, after having just lost $500 million to the banks in a stupid financial move! Management has published a time-table for getting rid of many of us in April 2013. Our best chance to keep our jobs is to fight for them. And that’s what we’re doing.
When AFSCME Local 207 calls for mass actions, be there! Don’t miss your opportunity to fight and win!