DETROIT – Thousands of marchers, many of them Black youth, union members and church leaders, occupied the streets of downtown Detroit for several hours April 25 outside General Electric’s national shareholders meeting at the Renaissance Center.
They chanted non-stop, “GE, pay your taxes” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, corporate greed has got to go!” They came from metro Detroit, and from all over the Midwest in busloads, including Wisconsin and Ohio.
Leaders skillfully coordinated the mass occupation of the streets, keeping the marchers in solid blocs behind the RenCen, where they were supposed to remain, and then down the side streets onto East Jefferson and up to the front doors of the RenCen. Despite threats and shoving by Detroit police on horseback and in dozens of cars, they were not able to make arrests.
Pastors William Rideout, Homer Jamison and Walter Starghill from Detroit and Inkster led the occupation after disrupting the shareholders’ meeting inside. They tried to present GE CEO Jeff Immett with a bill for $26.5 billion, which they said the company owes the U.S. in back taxes based on the 35 percent statutory rate.
A GE spokesman said the company paid $2.9 billion GLOBALLY, but had its tax rate reduced due to falling sales in previous years.
The three pastors, along with Good Jobs Now! and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have also led militant occupations of DTE Energy’s downtown Detroit headquarters, again with large contingents of Black youth. A group of young women carried letter placards spelling out “D-T-E” during the march.
In a city where many youth have lost hope for their future, the numbers participating in the GE protest were astonishing. They danced and chanted, excited to be fighting the real public enemy, instead of each other.
“This affects me,” said Jataveyis Price, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He carried a sign calling GE a tax dodger. “The youth could have education, jobs and health care by getting all these tax dodgers out and fixing our deficit.”
GE is known for moving its plants overseas to take advantage of low wages, leaving hundreds of thousands jobless in the U.S.
Jerome Jackson, who is fighting the foreclosure of his home in Inkster, came in his wheelchair.
“If GE paid their fair share, it could be used for bringing our city out of the red and into the green.”
Jackson has another hearing pending June 7 at 2 p.m. in 22nd District Court, and is being supported by Moratorium NOW!, Occupy Detroit, and People Before Banks, who have rallied outside his home.
Charles Whitmore is the regional coordinator for MoveOn.Org, representing western Wayne and Oakland Counties.
“GE is a criminal for not paying its fair share,” Whitmore said. “They are holding up the economic recovery with their tax breaks, along with the subsidies that the oil companies and other corporations get. Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided that corporations are people, they need to become good citizens. It’s so ironic that the corporations could actually make more money by cooperating with the people instead of laying them off and foreclosing on them, because they would have more customers. “
Chuck Altman added, “GE is a major defense contractor, with contracts from the Pentagon for equipment like jet turbine engines. This country needs more butter, not more guns.”
Carrying signs proclaiming, “Windmills not Weapons,” Carolyn Doherty and Charlotte Kish explained, “GE also makes machinery for nuclear reactors, which are unsafe at any price.”
Marchers wearing purple SEIU T-Shirts were everywhere. Chris Michalakis, president of the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO, said the planning committee for the march included the United Auto Workers (UAW) and other unions as well.
However, no signs from the UAW, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and other major unions were in evidence.
Before the march, the daily media including Nolan Finley of the Detroit News blasted the protesters’ plans.
“. . . there’s a real risk . . . investors will witness instead a confirmation that Metro Detroit is ground zero for the destructive war against wealth and business,” Finley proclaimed April 22. “Groups tied to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the United Auto Workers’ 99% Spring action SWAT team have been recruiting protesters to stage an anti-World Trade Organization-style protest in the streets around the RenCen.
“But if massive numbers of raucous demonstrators disrupt the GE meeting, it will be a disaster for Detroit,” Finley continued. “Other business gatherings will avoid the city like the plague, hurting the convention business and killing jobs. More broadly, it will affirm that Detroit is still in the clutches of militant unions, hostile to business and a lousy place to plant money.”’
The News later reported that UAW President Bob King was re-considering his union’s participation.
Despite the recent disastrous state takeover of Detroit, and the cut-offs of hundreds of thousands of state residents from public assistance, many major unions have refused to call on the economic clout still held by Michigan workers. So far, leaders have refused to declare an all-union general strike, like those in Greece which forced the international banks to reduce their demands for that country’s debt payments by 75 percent.
The only time many union leaders appear to unite is to negotiate contract concessions as a group, despite the fact that such concessions have sapped both the union membership and living and working conditions for people everywhere, since the 1970’s.
The turnout of thousands, predominantly youth, at the RenCen April 26 shamed these other unions. Combined with the resources of the major unions, the national 99% movement could eventually triumph against the “destructive war” on working and poor people.
Link to original article from Voice of Detroit
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