Working closely with local groups and Occupy, United Auto Workers Local 600 has been an integral part of actions that have succeeded in blocking evictions.
"The time it takes us lawyers to win even the easiest of victories means most homeowners will not be helped. ... When people try to get modifications, the banks tell them documents are lost, and give contradictory information. People are told, ‘You can’t be helped unless you’re behind in your payments,’ and later they’re told, ‘You can’t be helped because you’re behind in your payments.’”
—Ted Phillips, Executive Director, United Community Housing Coalition of Detroit
Much of the once-grand city of Detroit has been reduced to a ghostly ruin, and the recent upturns in profitability of U.S. auto firms have hardly helped it, since the companies have few plants left in the city. The heralded rebirths of GM and Chrysler hasn't helped workers much, as the Obama administration declined to insist on shoring up auto production in the United States in return for massive federal loans.
Abysmal poverty afflicts the city; 40,000 households have suffered water shutoffs. The specter of thousands of new home foreclosure stalks the city, threatening to push more Detroiters out of their homes on top of the 67,000 bank foreclosures—more than 20 percent of all household mortgages—that hit the city between 2005 and 2009 alone. The city already has an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 vacant homes. With the ongoing wave of foreclosures, home values have been plunging. Foreclosed homes sell for $38,000 in Wayne County and less than $11,000 in Detroit, according to RealtyTrac.
With little realistic prospect of besieged homeowners getting help from overwhelmed lawyers serving the poor, or Obama administration programs (see here and here), United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 600 has been stepping in to help fight foreclosures. Working closely with groups like People before Banks, Occupy Detroit, Moratorium Now!, Jobs With Justice, and other groups, Local 600 has been an integral part of actions that have succeeded in blocking evictions. “All the good guys came together in an ad hoc coalition,” explained Vinny Pfursich, editor of Local 600’s newspaper.
Local 600 has 10,000 active members and about 15,000 retirees. It represents workers at 40 diverse workplaces, including nurses and lawyers as well as the traditional base of Ford auto workers at the River Rouge plant.
Labor educator Steve Babson, a leader of People Before Banks and author of Working Detroit, recounted a recent action that was “a scene straight out of Charles Dickens." An elderly African-American couple, with husband William legally blind, missed some mortgage payments to the New York Bank of Mellon Trust. In a sheriff’s sale, the bank bought the home for $12,000, meaning that the Garretts would have to move from their home of 22 years in the dead of winter.
At one point, Bertha Garrett thought that she had persuaded the bank sell the home to the Garretts for the $12,000 that the couple had managed to scrape together. But then the bank backed out of the deal, insisting on a sale price of $24,000, far out of reach for the couple.
Usually, what happens next step in the foreclosure process is the arrival of a truck hauling a dumpster, with a crew ready to throw out a family’s belongings.
But UAW 600 and its allies confronted the would-be eviction team with a tactic appropriate to the Motor City: cars and lots of them. The anti-foreclosure forces surrounded the Garretts’ home with dozens of cars, and the bank’s evictors were shut out. When the eviction squad called in the police, officers came to the scene but dismissed it as a “civil matter” and drove off. That left the anti-foreclosure forces still in command of the situation, and the evictors left the scene.
Meanwhile, some 40 protesters—about half from Local 600—picketed outside the Mellon bank to publicize its treatment of the Garretts. With the eviction foiled and the prospect of bad publicity growing, the Mellon bank relented and sold the Garretts’ home back to them for $12,000.
Local 600’s role in the fight against foreclosures is in keeping with its history of militancy, outlined in Thomas Sugrue’s book The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. “We’ve got a history of social activism," Local 600’s Pfursich says. Based primarily at the River Rouge complex, Local 600 caught on very early to the first signs of corporate flight from unionized plants in the U.S. North.
In 1951, Local 600 filed an historic lawsuit challenging Ford’s layoffs resulting from its relocation of jobs. But Local 600’s position found more support among local city councils and the public than it did with UAW President Walter Reuther, according to Sugrue: ”The reluctance of the UAW (and most other unions) to challenge sacrosanct business practices [like plant-location decisions] limited the possibilities of resistance to de-industrialization.”
Local 600 was also out in front of the rest of labor in backing the rights of African-Americans to live anywhere they wanted, and fought against the rigid system of housing segregation that kept blacks confined to a cramped, tiny slice of Detroit at a time when the city’s population was growing rapidly.
Today, the housing issues are quite different, as the city is contracting painfully, losing 25 percent of its population 2000 to 2010 and growing more impoverished. But Local 600 appears deeply committed to the fight against foreclosures, with another action set for today (Wednesday) to prevent a family from being evicted in the nearby town of Inkster.
Local 600’s activism in fighting foreclosures has the potential for energizing other locals of the UAW and other unions. If Local 600 can have a substantial impact in a metro area of 4.3 million, then unions concentrated in medium-sized factory towns of 40,000 to 100,000 have the potential to exercise at least as much power.
The efforts of nonprofit and faith organizations have mostly focused on trying to help potential foreclosure victims use federal programs and negotiate loan modifications with the banks. But nationally, there is a growing awareness of the futility of the main anti-foreclosure programs and the general unwillingness of banks to negotiate lower mortgage payments. With many Americans fed up with bailed-out banks forcing families out of their homes, unions like Local 600 could be a part of the Occupy movement's spring offensive focused on preventing foreclosures.
Link to article from AlterNet
After initially stating he would rule on an emergency appeal to stop water shutoffs at the end of Tuesday’s court session, US federal bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes announced Wednesday he would issue no decision until at least September 17. This means the city, which has shut off water service to nearly 1,000 households since resuming this brutal policy last week, will continue for at least the next two weeks.
Rhodes appointed a mediator from the US bankruptcy court, US chief judge Phillip Shefferly, to hold “confidential” mediations between the Detroit Water...
Lawrence Porter | World Socialist Web Site 04 Sep 2014 Hits:245 Michigan
While they carry signs “Thirsty For Justice” nearly 45% of Detroit’s 173,000 water accounts are considered past due, with 420 customers due to be denied service Tuesday.
The bankrupt Detroit lifted the month-long suspension of shutting off water to people who have not paid bills. Some 25,000 customers have reached payment plans with the city.
The new system seems to be working very well,” said John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan. The biggest changed to the payment plan program was to require only 10% of past-due balances to enter a payment...
Kaye Wonderhouse | The Global Dispatch 28 Aug 2014 Hits:211 Michigan
DETROIT, Mich. (WJLA/AP) -- Detroit's massive municipal water department, which has been widely criticized for widespread service shutoffs to thousands of customers, drew nationwide attention Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Due to public pressure, the department has temporarily suspended shutoffs for customers who were 60 days or more behind on bills for 15 days.
But with the prospect of shutoffs resuming in a week, some members of Congress are now asking the Obama administration and the Department of Health and Human Services to intervene in what they contend is a humanitarian crisis facing...
Scott Thurman | AP | ABC 7 News 01 Aug 2014 Hits:380 Michigan
Maude Barlow, Canadian author and national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, with a delegation of water rights advocates brought 260 gallons of water to Detroiters July 24.
Of the 15,000 homes that have had water shut off by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, it is estimated that only 48 percent are back in service.
“We came to pay tribute to the people of Detroit,” Barlow said in remarks made at St. Peter’s Church, Michigan and Trumbull, where the water was delivered.
“Fresh water and sanitation are human rights guaranteed by the United Nations,”...
The Michigan Citizen 30 Jul 2014 Hits:351 Michigan
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is suspending its water shutoffs for 15 days starting today to give residents another chance to prove they are unable to pay their bills.
“In case we have missed someone who has legitimate affordability problems this will allow them to come to us to see if they can work out payments,” department spokesman Bill Johnson said. “We’ve always maintained that what we were doing was a collection effort — not a shutoff effort.”
The decision comes after the city has put into national spotlight for a...
Brent Snavely, Matt Helms | Detroit Free Press 21 Jul 2014 Hits:288 Michigan
Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain't livin', this ain't livin'
No, no baby, this ain't livin'
No, no, no, no
--Marvin Gaye, "Inner City Blues"
On July 18 thousands of activists and dozens of organizations will converge on downtown Detroit to protest the privatization of the city’s assets and the disconnection of water to tens of thousands of low-income residents. The UN has called the shutoff a human rights violation. Demonstrators from around the country will rally in Hart Plaza at 1 pm, linking arms with the citizens of...
Ben Ptashnik and Victoria Collier | The Progressive 09 Jul 2014 Hits:403 Michigan
Detroit made international news this month when its municipal water board resumed cutting off water to residents with unpaid bills. With thousands of community members struggling in homes with no running water, local groups reached out (PDF) to the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation to intervene. On Wednesday, U.N. officials responded, calling the water department’s actions a “violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s decision to cut off residents with unpaid...
Anna Lappé | Al Jazeera English 02 Jul 2014 Hits:810 Michigan
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) won't appear on the Democratic primary ballot after failing to submit enough valid signatures, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett said on Tuesday.
"It is my determination that in accordance with the current laws and statutes of the State of Michigan, the nominating petitions filed by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. are insufficient to allow his name to appear on the August 5, 2014 Primary Ballot," Garrett said in a statement.
The decision means Conyers may have to run as a write-in candidate if he wants to keep a seat he's held...
Cameron Joseph | The Hill 14 May 2014 Hits:677 Michigan
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) will retire at the end of his current term, capping a historic career as the longest-serving member of Congress in history.
In prepared remarks for his annual "State of the District" speech distributed by his office Monday afternoon, Dingell described his decision as personal and rooted in the standards he had set for himself as a lawmaker.
"Around this time every two years, my wife Deborah and I confer on the question of whether I will seek reelection. My standards are high for this job. I put...
Sean Sullivan | Washington Post 24 Feb 2014 Hits:529 Michigan
On December 3, United States Bankruptcy Judge Stephen A. Rhodes—to the surprise of no one—formally ruled that Detroit is “eligible” for bankruptcy. In other words, creditors will now wrangle over Detroit’s government assets with Rhodes as the referee.
It is important to understand that at no point has Detroit declared or requested bankruptcy. Indeed Detroiters and others in Michigan have resisted as best they could, only to be overpowered at every turn. As Judge Rhodes explains below, bankruptcy has been orchestrated from Lansing (the state capitol) with a lot of help...
Frank Joyce | AlterNet 17 Dec 2013 Hits:529 Michigan
Michigan lawmakers passed a controversial measure on Wednesday that will ban all insurance plans in the state from covering abortion unless the woman's life is in danger. The law, which takes effect in March, will force women and employers to purchase a separate abortion rider if they would like the procedure covered, even in cases of rape and incest.
Supporters of the "Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act" argue that it allows people who are opposed to abortion to avoid paying into a plan that covers it. Opponents have nicknamed it the "rape...
Laura Bassett | Huffington Post 11 Dec 2013 Hits:1686 Michigan
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes ruled Tuesday that the city of Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy after a long court battle between city appointed 'emergency manager' Kevyn Orr and union and labor activists who say the decision paves the way for workers' pensions to be cut.
Rhodes ruled that Detroit is insolvent, a legal criteria for bankruptcy, meaning it can cut public pensions for the bankruptcy filing.
Critics say the city bankruptcy filing, the first of its kind, is an attack on pensions and future livelihoods for workers in the city of...
Common Dreams Staff 03 Dec 2013 Hits:424 Michigan
Contradicting what the corporate media editorial boards have promoted in chorus with the multi-millionaire Governor Rick Snyder and his appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, 110 people filed objections to the forced bankruptcy of the City of Detroit. The hearing took place on September 19 and was widely covered in the local, national and international press.
This extraordinary hearing had provided only a small window of time for legal action. Many of the people that testified were retirees, city workers, community organizers and professionals who met the deadline set by the Judge...
Abayomi Azikiwe | Global Research 24 Sep 2013 Hits:800 Michigan
Much has been justifiably made about the damage the Roberts Supreme Court has done to voting rights in their recent decision, Shelby County v. Holder. However, a potentially more insidious plot denying the precious right to vote is occurring in my own state of Michigan, where Republican Governor Rick Snyder has appointed an emergency manager to run Detroit in place of the duly elected mayor and City Council. Even more troubling, the governor did so after Michigan voters had rejected the emergency manager law at the ballot box, when late...
Rep. John Conyers, Jr | Huffington Post 16 Sep 2013 Hits:749 Michigan
Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history Thursday afternoon, capping a long decline that left the nation’s automaking capital bleeding residents and revenue, while rendering city services a mess.
The nation’s fourth-largest city in the 1950s with nearly 2 million residents, the city has seen its populaton plummet to 700,000 as residents fled increasing crime and deteriorating sevices, taking their tax dollars with them.
The five-decade slide has left the city owing creditors some $19 billion and under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. The manager has been...
Michael A. Fletcher | The Washington Post 18 Jul 2013 Hits:435 Michigan
In November, Michiganders voted the state's undemocratic Emergency Financial Manager law out of existence. But that didn't keep Snyder and legislators from claiming control of Motor City.
As of today, Detroit…
On Thursday an emergency manager was named for Detroit, Kevyn Orr, a partner in the Jones Day law firm.
MICHAEL STAMPFLER, [email] Available for a limited number of interviews with major…
Teachers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, say that new paycheck cuts are leaving them with so little pay they qualify for food stamps. The teachers, working without a contract, have been…
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared the city of Detroit in a state of "fiscal emergency" on Friday afternoon and announced he would appoint a emergency financial manager (EFM)…
On the heels of a lawsuit filed recently in the Ingham County District Court challenging the constitutionality of Michigan’s new Right to Work law, a coalition of unions has filed a…
Michigan’s so-called lame duck legislature passed a remarkable 232 bills in its last week of business. Only one bill, SB 0116 (2011), the so-called Right to Work Bill, passed on…
LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Legislature approved sweeping legislation on Tuesday that vastly reduces the power of organized labor in a state that has been a symbol of…
Newly elected Rep. Dave Curson moved into his spacious, sun-drenched Capitol Hill office three weeks ago, eager to savor every minute of his congressional career.
And relish it he…
Lansing, MI – Many concerned worker gathered in Lansing today as Republican legislators scrambled to move forward two bills that had been dormant in their committees for most of the…
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