Letter from the Editors: Fall 2012

Labor is on the move right now, not only in Detroit but around the country.

Chicago teachers started with a walkout in September, striking for several days before reaching an agreement with city officials. Around the same time employees struck at two warehouses sub-contracted by Walmart in California and Illinois, triggering a wave of walkouts and actions at Walmart stores in more than 10 states.

On October 1, workers at a Detroit wastewater treatment plant left their posts in a five day strike over a proposal to cut the city’s Water and Sewerage staff by more than 80 percent and efforts to privatize the department. That struggle ended after five days with the reinstatement of over 30 workers who had been notified they would be fired. Spokespersons for the AFSCME (Amalgamated Federal State County and Municipal Employees) union local who had engaged in the strike said they had walked out not just over conditions, but to encourage other unions and Detroit residents to stand up and fight for their dignity in the face of outrageous austerity policies.

The recent string of labor actions is comparable to the emergence of the Occupy Movement one year ago. Following the occupation of Zuccotti Park, tent cities popped up around the country. They formed networks of solidarity linking previously unconnected people and groups and opened a breach in the larger culture where taboo topics like poverty and income inequality could become part of a broad public discourse.

Here in the D, Occupy Detroit sprung up at Grand Circus Park. Although not without its flaws, the local movement helped bring together unions, civil rights groups and others with a new generation of fresh young activists. Their arrival helped re-energize a variety of local struggles and bolster campaigns against foreclosure and state takeovers of cities and school districts under the 2011 Michigan law Public Act 4.

If there is a theme at all to this issue, it’s a celebration of resistance and innovation in the face of austerity. In the pages of our Fall 2012 edition of Critical Moment we’ll take a look at the many state ballot issues facing voters, including the grassroots-led proposal to overturn Public Act 4. Fred Vitale will talk about the work of a group known as the Housing is a Human Right Coalition that has addressed the city’s housing crisis by relocating homeless families into abandoned buildings. And, in a nod to the current wave of successful labor struggles sweeping the country, Emily Canosa will explore the possibility of completely transforming our notions of work in her article on worker cooperatives. We also have an update on the State’s consent agreement takeover of Detroit, an investigation by high school debaters on the intersection of transit and civil rights and a whole heap more. There are certainly dire challenges confronting the city of Detroit right now, but there’s also plenty of good work going on that needs to be recognized. Keep struggling!

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