Detroit’s Retired City Workers in the Crosshairs

by ANN ROBERTSON & BILL LEUMER

With Detroit’s finances looking increasingly dire, the city’s creditors are beginning to face off with one another, each trying to minimize their losses. The city’s pension fund, which supports retired city workers, has found itself in direct conflict with a formidable opponent, the bondholders, individuals and institutions that gave the city money in order to enjoy the interest on the loan.

Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager put in charge of resolving the city’s finances, has already indicated that “painful sacrifices must be shared.”

Bondholders are insisting that they must be paid in full, or at least should be granted highest priority in repayment. Otherwise, they argue, cities across the country will be forced to pay much higher interest rates when they borrow money, since municipal bonds will be judged less secure. And they point to the “full faith and credit pledge” that underlies the issuance of bonds and is supposed to make them more secure.

But, according to The New York Times, many of the city’s retirees are already in poverty, which is becoming the new norm for retirees among the 99% across the country. And as the president of one of the affected unions correctly pointed out: “This is on their [bondholders] balance sheets. But this is our lives.”

As inequalities in wealth continue to create an ever-widening chasm between the rich and the rest of us, the concept of “shared sacrifice” is becoming increasingly ludicrous. On the one hand, people are struggling to put food on the table and hold on to their houses after working hard all their lives. On the other hand, bondholders want a handsome return on their investment without doing any work at all.

It is the duty of unions to protect their members. The AFL-CIO should immediately make its highest priority the defense of the retired city workers of Detroit, bringing all its resources to the city in order to mobilize massive numbers of people in the streets so as to galvanize public support around the retired city workers. The unions should insist that taxes be raised on the rich in order to resolve the city’s finances and protect the city’s workers. Such a gesture would bring tremendous prestige to the unions and reignite interest in a labor movement that has been on a downhill trajectory for decades.

In fact, on June 22, the NAACP and United Auto Workers (UAW) are planning a Freedom Walk to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s original Freedom Walk in Detroit, where he gave his initial version of the “I Have a Dream” speech. The AFL-CIO should throw all its support into this demonstration and encourage that the focus of the demonstration be the plight of the retired city workers. And by bringing the court of public opinion to bear on the struggle in Detroit, it can possibly influence the outcome.

In addition to the June 22 demonstration, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), among others, has called for a march on Washington on August 24 to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech. The AFL-CIO has endorsed this event. It should take advantage of the occasion and again mobilize massive numbers of working people in order to demand an end to the austerity measures that have been imposed on working people across the country ¾ not just workers in Detroit ¾ ranging from cuts to social services, cuts to pensions, cuts to jobs, cuts to education, salary cuts, and now threats to cut Social Security and Medicare. And it should demand that the federal government initiate a massive jobs program financed by raising taxes on the rich.

By going all-out to support the workers in Detroit, the AFL-CIO could succeed in protecting these workers and at the same time help itself, because it is also in dire straits and in need of a rescue as workers across the country have been urging and waiting for it to act.

Ann Robertson is a Lecturer at San Francisco State University and a member of the California Faculty Association. Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action and may be reached at sanfrancisco@workerscompass.org.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 04, 2015
Vincent J. Roscigno
University Bureaucracy as Organized Crime
Paul Street
Bernie Sanders’ Top Five Race Problems: the Whiteness of Nominal Socialism
Herbert Dyer, Jr.
Is White Supremacy a Mental Disorder?
Ramzy Baroud
The Palestinian Bubble and the Burning of Toddler, Ali Dawabsha
Pepe Escobar
Reshuffling Eurasia’s Energy Deck — Iran, China and Pipelineistan
L. Michael Hager
The Battle Over BDS
Eric Draitser
Puerto Rico: Troubled Commonwealth or Debt Colony?
Colin Todhunter
Hypnotic Trance in Delhi: Monsanto, GMOs and the Looting of India’s Agriculture
Benjamin Willis
The New Cubanologos: What’s in a Word?
Matt Peppe
60 Minutes Provides Platform for US Military
Binoy Kampmark
The Turkish Mission: Reining in the Kurds
Eoin Higgins
Teaching Lessons of White Supremacy in Prime-Time: Blackrifice in the Post-Apocalyptic World of the CW’s The 100
Gary Corseri
Gaza: Our Child’s Shattered Face in the Mirror
Robert Dodge
The Nuclear World at 70
Paula Bach
Exit the Euro? Polemic with Greek Economist Costas Lapavitsas
August 03, 2015
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington