Apartheid in Detroit: Water for corporations, not people June 18, 2014
Biill and Hillary Clinton were up to their ears in more than $10 million worth of legal debt at the end of Clinton’s tenure as president. Donald Trump was bailed out of four bankruptcies. But Detroit residents are having a basic human right – the access to water – cancelled for being late on bills of $150.
In the spring, Detroit’s Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr ordered water shutoffs for 150,000 Detroit residents late on their bills. Orr is an unelected bureaucrat accountable only to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed Orr and several other “emergency managers” in largely poor, black communities like Detroit, Benton Harbor, Flint, and Highland Park, to make all financial decisions on behalf of local elected governments.
Orr’s plan will shut off water for 1,500 to 3,000 Detroit residents each week. Neither Orr nor Homrich, the contracting company Orr hired to shut off residents’ water, answered calls for interview requests.
Detroit citizens have been protesting the decision on the basis that water is a human right that cannot be denied to families who need it for cooking, bathing and flushing toilets. Many residents facing water shutoffs are currently on monthly payment plans with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), paying upwards of $160 per month as water rates continue to rise, and were given no prior notice that their water was about to be cut off. Last week, the Detroit City Council held a public hearing to discuss a proposed 4 percent hike in water rates.
“The families I’ve talked to in my neighborhood and others around the city are confused about why they’re being hit (in this way),” community activist Russ Bellant told the Michigan Citizen. “Some knew they were behind, but thought they’d have time to pay it. These are people who mow the lawn on the vacant lots next door (to them).”
As the Michigan Citizen reported, residents with delinquent water bills are losing their water while prominent Detroit corporations with much larger delinquent water bills are being left alone. The Palmer Park Golf Club owes $200,000. Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, owes DWSD $80,000. Ford Field owes $55,000. Kevyn Orr is arguing that the shutoffs are necessary to pay for the DWSD infrastructure – yet when Detroit raised $1 billion in bonds to pay for new infrastructure, $537 million of it went to banks like JPMorgan Chase, UBS and Morgan Stanley to pay off interest instead.
Community activists are placing blame on the structural, institutionalized poverty in Detroit that forces the people to foot the bill for corporate mismanagement. Detroit’s bankruptcy and urban blight is a direct result of the housing bubble that burst, putting over 60,000 homes in foreclosure and rendering thousands of families homeless.
Dan Gilbert, the billionaire owner of Quicken Loans who is financing much of the gentrified development of downtown Detroit, has been particularly blamed for his company’s role in exacerbating the foreclosure crisis through its intimidation of homeowners, pressuring them into risky subprime lending schemes.
“Instead of going after the corporate institutions who owe millions, they’d rather turn off the water for poor people,” said Demeeko Williams, an organizer with Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management.
To fight back, Williams and other community activist groups like Moratorium NOW! and the Detroit After Party are teaming up to create theDetroit Water Brigade, a mutual aid effort aimed at providing residents with water and stopping water shutoffs with nonviolent direct action. The Detroit Water Brigade has set up a bridal registry on Amazon.com inviting those interested to help purchase necessary supplies like water coolers, cases of bottled water, heavy-duty contractor bags, and orange safety vests.
Some of the more radical direct actions being promoted by the Detroit Water Brigade include distributing flyers instructing people on how to turn their own water back on after it’s been shut off, and how to pre-emptively stop contractors from shutting water for their home. The flyer reads:
“Step 1: If your water is off, have the neighborhood water person or a friend (not you) obtain a water key and turn it back on 1st. (If you expect your water to be turned off, go to step 2.)
“Step 2: Purchase ready mix cement from the hardware [store].
“Step 3: Fill lockbox pipe 3/4ths full with dry cement mix.
“Step 4: Add water to top off. Don’t use rocks because rocks can be sucked out.”
The Detroit Water Brigade is also meeting regularly to train interested residents in nonviolent civil disobedience. Residents are planning to form human chains putting themselves between water lockboxes and contractors hired to shut off water. The water brigade is counting on Detroit’s understaffed police department to not have the resources to arrest and jail everyone participating in the water shutoff demonstrations.
In response to sustained protests from Detroit residents, the DWSD has removed the “Water Shut Off” decals from its trucks.
100 arrested near McDonald’s headquarters in protest over low pay May 22, 2014
McDonald’s closed part of its corporate headquarters on Wednesday in response to a mass protest by workers and activists that campaigners say ended in over 100 arrests.
Over 2,000 people calling for a hike in the minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation descended on the fast food giant’s suburban Chicago headquarters in what is believed to be the largest demonstration McDonald’s has ever faced.
Chanting, “Hey McDonald’s You Can’t Hide, We Can See Your Greedy Side,” and “No Big Macs, No Fries, Make our Wage Supersize,” protesters blocked the entrance to McDonald’s campus in Oakbrook, some 20 miles outside Chicago.
A short walk from Hamburger University, McDonald’s training center, the protesters were confronted by a phalanx of police officers in riot gear. After they sat down the police issued two orders to disperse and arrests began.
McDonald’s workers, church leaders and Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry were among those arrested.
Some 500 fast-food workers from three dozen cities as well as local church groups, union activists and community groups were present at the demonstration. It came a day before the fast food company’s annual meeting when dissident shareholders intend to vote against CEO Donald Thompson’s $9.5m pay package. Protesters also plan to picket that meeting, from which media have been excluded.
Activists said the company feared a “public relations minefield” and had sent workers home in order to derail the protest. Protesters moved their demonstration to another nearby McDonald’s corporate facility.
A McDonald’s spokeswoman said the company had taken the decision to close the a building on its campus that holds 2,000 staff after consultation with police. The building was close to a busy intersection and the company was concerned about the disruption the protesters could cause to traffic. She said staff continued to work from home.
Restaurant and retail workers are calling for a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The latest protest is one of a series aimed at fueling a national debate on income inequality and comes after a report from the Demos thinktank showed that fast-food companies had the largest gap between the pay of CEOs and workers of any industry. The report found that the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio for the fast-food industry was more than 1,000-to-one in 2013.
Amanda Wenninghoff, 28, has been working for McDonald’s in Kansas City for 10 years and travelled to Chicago to call for a wage rise. She earns $8 an hour and said she hadn’t had a wage raise since 2003.
“I have lived in my car with my kids because I haven’t had the wages to support a place for us to live,” she told the Guardian. “I have friends who need life-saving surgery they can’t afford.”
She said McDonald’s offered health insurance, but it would cost $400 a month for her alone –about half her monthly salary. “It would be impossible for me to get by without government assistance,” she said. “The least they can do is pay us enough money so we can afford to live instead of putting it on the taxpayers.”
McDonald’s worker Ashona Osborne, 24, travelled from Pittsburgh to protest. She makes $7.25 an hour and said her wages had been cut since she had started to protest.
“I need better support for me and my family,” she said. “It’s not just McDonald’s, I have been working on minimum wage since I was 16 and it’s very, very difficult. I have decide which priority to take care of, which bill can I pay.”
She said Thompson $9.5m pay package worked out at about $6,600 an hour. “He makes more money than me on the way to work,” she said. “That’s ridiculous. They can afford to give me more money. If it weren’t for us workers there would be no McDonald’s, no Burger King, no Wendy’s.”
On Thursday, shareholder activist Change to Win Investment Group (Ctw) is organising a vote against Thompson, who took over as CEO in 2012. It follows similar protests against CEO pay at other restaurant groups including Domino’s and Chipotle.
Earlier this month, 77% of Chipotle shareholders voted against the compensation packages of co-CEOs Steve Ells and Monty Moran, worth $25.1m and $24.4m respectively in 2013. The vote, which is non-binding and was also organised by CtW, has prompted a review of compensation at the company.
The pressure for change comes as President Obama has pushed Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour from the current $7.25. The move is being challenged by Republicans and by lobbyists for the restaurant industry who claim it will cost jobs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that there are 3.5m fast-food and counter workers in the US, and they earn a median hourly wage of $8.83 – almost $18,400 per year based on a 40-hour work week without vacation.
Earlier this year the Congressional Budget Office said a hike in the minimum wage to $10.10 would cost 500,000 jobs by 2016 but boost earnings for about 16.5 million low-wage workers. The National Restaurant Association said the report was proof that a wage hike was detrimental for the economy.
“The restaurant industry provides real pathways to the middle class and beyond, and dramatic increases in the minimum wage will only hinder our ability to provide stepping stones for those who need it most,” the association said in a statement.