“The bottom line isn't the whole thing”: Detroit, anti-racism and labour history

“The bottom line isn't the whole thing”: Detroit, anti-racism and labour history

New Beginnings interviews a Detroit militant with decades of organizing experience in the area.

Mike Ermler has been a long-time activist in Detroit and he has decades of experience in labor, anti-racist and anti-fascist organizing. He has been a member of several organizations and networks over the years. New Beginnings interviewed Mike in the summer of 2006, covering a range of topics about workplace and community organizing from the perspective of working class self-organization.

NB: You began organizing in early 1970s Detroit. Could you talk about what the labor situation was like when many in the Left turned toward workplace organizing during this period?

Ermler: Part of the Left came out of SDS and the Black Power formations. As people know it was a sizable movement. But people were trying to figure out how to further the transformation of society and ways to find mass forces to do it. People have to understand the period though. So let’s take an arbitrary date when this really started to pick up speed, which was post-1968, but really after 1969 there was a tremendous amount of ferment and struggles going on in industry and among the working class. Many began relating to workers, particularly the more oppressed ones. So we have the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW) phenomena, the United Black Brothers at Mahwah Ford and many more; so this period was one of transformation going into the early 1970s.

In labor more broadly you had union-led struggles, like the one month General Motors strike in 1970 or 1971 to restore the cost-of-living allowance, which was important because prices were skyrocketing because of the Vietnam War and people’s standard of living was being cut. This caused state intervention and the union bureaucracy collaborating with price controls where you had the heads of certain unions, like Leonard Woodcock of the UAW, on the wage-controls board.

You had a major and long strike of largely Mexican workers in the Texas borderlands at the Farrar company making jeans. You had various wildcat strikes because of speed-up as well as mass absenteeism because of the pace of the work and forced overtime. You had mixed rank-and-file with some liberals and union bureaucrats coming together against the gangster Tony Boyle regime in the United Mine Workers. So you saw a rank-and-file movement that came together that busted up the hold of major bureaucracy.

There was the massive postal strike that involved about 600,000 people that was forced by the ranks on the leaders. There were many teachers’ strikes. There were also factory seizures here in Detroit. Industries like auto were still central, but they were beginning to make the turn toward the decline. But they could still make a big impact on society by any action. All this type of thing was going on from around 1968-1972. There was a tremendous amount of ferment. A lot of it from below; some union-led; some of a mixed character.

NB: Could you describe some of the Leftist tendencies that were trying to make the turn toward workplace organizing at this time?

Ermler: There were the Maoist trends like the Revolutionary Union, which was the forerunner of Revolutionary Communist Party. There was also the Progressive Labor Party. You had the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninists) that no longer exists, as well as other tendencies. These groups went into the workplace with a sense, unlike the Weather Underground, that you could organize “the people” into a broad army—not in the literal sense—but that they would no longer be people isolated from the masses.

What the Maoist groups took from Maoism was summed up in the phase “Live with the workers, cohere the workers, organize the workers.” There was almost like a priest aspect to it and it is no coincidence that internationally some major Maoist players had been Catholic youth activists coming out of social Catholicism.

It appeared that there was a “from below” aspect to Maoism. China at this time was still in a confrontational stance towards the U.S. and supporting various struggles around the world of people of color. The rightwing nature of Maoism’s political positions hadn’t become evident yet to many. The Maoist tendencies had size because of the reputation of China as what people saw as the main enemy of U.S. imperialism. Some middle-class youth made the turn to the factories through this trend. Many of these youths were middle class in the sense that they had gone to college but they came from working class families. You also had youth coming through from the black nationalist and Puerto Rican nationalist trends. There was also some veterans of the Vietnam War. For a radical Left grouping it was substantial.

You also had the Trotskyist trend. It was a mixed thing. There was Spark and the International Socialists (IS) coming together in 1969 with various “Third Camp,” “from below” groups sympathetic to Trotskyism, but not orthodox Trotskyists. They made the turn to the workplace. The other Trotskyist group (although they rejected it later), the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), was also doing some of this.

Of course, one of the reasons many joined the Maoists was because the SWP ran the whole bureaucratic wing of the anti-war movement for the liberals and trade union bureaucrats. The more militant anti-war activists grew to hate them and as a gut-level reaction ignored many of the political principles behind Stalinism and Maoism and instead hated Trotskyism. Also the Trotskyist intellectual tradition had an attraction for those who liked to stay debating and was a little more campus-centered. So the Trotskyist move into the workplace was much more uneven than the Maoist move. I was part of the IS tendency.

NB: What were some of the other difficulties of the IS making the transition?

Ermler: I don’t know that I saw the difficulties at first. I came in not being able to swallow the Stalinism of the other parties. I knew what the history of Stalinism and all its variants were and I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. The IS turning to the working class I thought was good and I wanted the more militant approach.

At this time there started to be debates about how to carry this turn out. Now at this time in the labor movement there was the ferment with various caucuses and national formations. Many were based in certain sectors like auto. There was the United National Caucus (UNC), whose main movers were older skilled tradesmen who had come out of the Left and had championed the skills of the tradesmen. But they were in a faction fight with the conservative workers among this set who were hostile to production workers, which also included a racial divide between white skilled labor and people of color production workers. Even so people in the UNC weren’t necessarily radical anymore, but at the same time they wanted a union that fought more and they had a base in many of the shops. They created opposition to the bankrupt policies of the central union bureaucracies. Many were dissident local union leaders who joined this too.

The IS came big into this. Those of us in the IS who began to question this orientation weren’t opposed to supporting such groups, but we wanted to more actively talk about the limitations of it. Part of our perspective, which was also for the entire labor movement, was that it was necessary to champion the cause of those workers who weren’t in such unionized areas.

For instance, in Detroit Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets (STRESS) campaign—the police terror that was killing people—was going on. We thought the UNC should take an active role in denouncing STRESS and pressuring the UAW to do so. So what had to happen was not just trade union demands, but also broader democratic and anti-racist demands. The idea was to bring this multi-faceted revolutionary politics and not just what a lot of these union oppositions brought. They were leftwing economist perspectives that were only concerned about union democracy.

So the faction fight in the IS was happening at a time when members were making the turn to various industries and out of this came the Revolutionary Socialist League, which I was a part of. We counterposed whether we should be the best builders of the leftwing of the union reform movement—which included dissidents from the bureaucracy—or whether there was something new in the working class.

We had the view that the black movement, world events and developments in the workplace had created in the working class a revolutionary layer. We wanted to support things like the Miners for Democracy in the UMW, to break the power of the rightwing union bureaucrats. But we also saw that we had to build formations that cohered what we called an “advanced layer.” It became evident to us that the IS was a reformist organization despite its revolutionary rhetoric and intentions.

In the early period of the RSL, we had some people in auto. We had a lot of people handing out publications like Revolutionary Autoworker, Revolutionary Steel Worker, Revolutionary Garment Worker, and Postal Action in the workplace. In that period we all gained a lot of experience. I was working in an AFSCME local. But it didn’t have backing strategically. A lot of us were waiting to get into those targeted industry jobs. Our contacts in auto were with the people who were handing out the literature.

During that tumultuous period of working class militancy that I talked about before there was the onset of the recession. At the same time as a citizen you checked your rights at the company door. There was a younger generation that was already rebellious for a number of reasons. We put out a lot of literature and it was valid. Yet the whole approach was overly literary and abstract, but it couldn’t be otherwise at that point.

We were emphasizing that there was this mass ferment and openness to revolutionary ideas. So we were pushing on the one hand, the idea that labor should cohere all the movements that were less fortunate. On the other we were formulating that labor should be calling for congresses of the oppressed to figure out how to struggle against the state and capitalists. We were trying to paint a picture in people’s mind of how things could be done. This is the kind of the broad thing we were trying to do.

We were saying that the partial labor victories were being reversed a year or two later. It was coupled with reform demands. Things like union leaders off the wage boards. We were talking about the need to deal with inner city unemployment by cutting the forced overtime and implementing 30 hours work for 40 hours pay. For the internal regime we raised the idea of an innocent until proven guilty grievance procedure; union control over hiring and firing as well as production standards.

We kept pushing to carry out these reforms, but in the context of the bigger ideas. Something like industry-wide strikes that used the whole social weight of the industry instead of UAW broken-up strategies that failed. This is what we were pushing. We tied it to the idea of production workers councils that oversaw things because you can’t rely on the union bureaucracy. When union officials deviated from what you wanted we said take things into your own hands. But like I said, this was largely literary and abstract.

So when I got into auto on the other side of the recession we decided to make a turn in the organization to bend the stick the other way. We weren’t junking these formulations or ideas. The struggles weren’t as intense on the other side of the recession. We still used the auto Revolutionary Worker to build caucuses of workers themselves. We started to build a personal and political base. We started to focus a lot of our attention in the bulletins on internal factory matters—although we brought in international issues—for example in my factory we had a wave of firings for a mix of reasons. We started a broad direct action campaign against the company and the union to get these people rehired who were fired for racist, sexist, or refusing to do outrageous things.

Before we had the idea of building a party fraction in these workplaces. We still saw it as building revolutionary formations that were directly allied to us in a certain sense. We would boil down 500 positions into 5 positions but they still were capped off with calls for socialist revolution. They were in a sense an arm of the organization. We set the tone and people came and hung with it who liked the ideas. We were doing South African solidarity, showing films, organizing picnics. Personal friendships were built this way. We had pickets and storming union halls against union officials who weren’t taking action.

Also during this period there was a major wave of the Klan—with Duke and Wilkinson on the rise. There were Nazi formations like National Socialists Movement (NSM), which is back again today, and the SS Action group. Separated from this rise and sometimes connected to it was a lot of racist violence. This was because, part of people having those postal, steel and auto wages, was that segregation was breaking down. White flight and white racist attacks were the result. We prioritized anti-racist work in response and got involved in united fronts around armed self-defense. We became a network force in this.

NB: Why is anti-fascism within the working class so important?

Ermler: Well, there is racism in the working class. Nazis and Klan are not just isolated nuts. Some people say, “Why are you chasing them?” They say, “These people’s politics are so demented what influence could they have?” But they underestimate what impact they can have. They had a small base but could have a lot of influence on people poisoned by U.S. racist history. It was also a good training ground for anti-racist militants in terms of skills and street action necessary for a working class movement. You would also find out that it brought you into a lot of cities and situations where confrontations and tensions with the police had a history and where multi-racial crowds were united against the local cops who were protecting Nazis and Klan.

Besides attacking fascists we would go door-to-door in tense neighborhoods and find white people who didn’t like what was going on or those who would be swayed by racist arguments and talked to them. We wouldn’t try to ignore it. But we would try to build a unity.

We used this same method in anti-gay and anti-women attacks. For example, one co-worker, who was a lesbian, was attacked along with her partner by their neighbors. She was attacked with scalding water and the partner stabbed the offender in response. The police showed up and put the partners in jail. We started a defense campaign about that and put out information about it in the auto plants. To raise money for the legal defense, we organized and sold tickets in all the plants to a gay rights, armed self-defense cabaret disco party. Many gay workers, including those who people didn’t even know were gay, came out.

Fascist networks exist. They have cadres that shrink and grow. When there is a time of political and economic crisis as we have seen here they try to reorient themselves and make moves. They not only start growing by ones and twos. Their contribution to violence and scapegoating propaganda can be part of shifting the whole thing to the right and more racist turns. Even if people don’t directly join their organizations they get that racial debate going.

It is important in the workplace because it affects workers. You are always finding someone who knew someone who was under attack. It’s not only the right thing to do and you can’t rely on the state, it’s also a case of self-help and mutual aid. It is also a case where you have black workers having to deal in the factory in an environment where it is racist. You can also show here is a multi-racial crew not a bunch of do-good liberals. This can sway white workers. It shows there doesn’t have to be a racially divisive future. Bringing working class solutions as opposed to ethnic divisiveness you can talk about the need to get a broader movement together for jobs and decent education, etc., for all. It cuts off racial tensions getting out of control under the right conditions.

Now again we seem to be moving into another period where it will be an issue again, at least here in Michigan. There’s some people probably aware of the recent National Socialist Alliance rallies. Twice at Toledo which provoked a rebellion and the city was on lock down for a couple of days.

Then there was the recent appearance up in Lansing. The National Socialist Alliance is more and more agitating for instance in Michigan before the Lansing thing went through the town and the affirmative action thing went on the ballot here. They were calling on white workers to smash affirmative action. I mean there is a whole other discussion involved with that, but it’s certainly an issue for them and they’ve also taken up the immigration issue and trying to jive with the whole fascist, semi-fascist Minuteman thing.

So that’s going on but people still may say – well, they’re isolated, ignored and stuff – but they must be a problem cause all we have to do is look at the state – knows that there is a deeper problem and fear, cause there’s two conferences by invitation only, one at U of M Dearborn and one here in the city recently that have been for elected officials, law enforcement and various people from civil rights and community organizations that have been addressed by an array of officials, also the Klan watch-types and the FBI, about the growing fascist threat from these groups. They’re worried about it.

The FBI chapter here, which was beefed up with the whole Mideast thing with the Arab population here, recently I was listening to an interview with the head of the FBI office for Detroit on radio and he said they’ve increased their separate task force on the question, and I can’t remember their figures now, but they’ve significantly increased their task force on racial violence on the Klan. They’ve brought in more people so they know that something’s coming, something’s up.

Just looking at that the fact that the mayor of Dearborn Heights community had a whole lot of racial vandalism, and though they kept it quiet they more or less indicated that it wasn’t organized fascists and terror and he was pointing out that they can’t have this heavily black youth rebellion against police, they also got to check the fascists because their provocations can lead to other oppressed populations blowing up and becoming a real problem. He said the cities are in need of economic reinvestment and development but fascist attacks will scare it away and there’s a lot of potential flashpoints coming.

Now something that we haven’t succeeded very well at, but we tried to get at—it’s been too informal—but we’ve tried to get a number of people to these recent Nazi demonstrations in these cities and we’re operating under the perspective – some of the same people going have been attending the Soldiers of Solidarity rank-and-file thing that was formed at Delphi. These are plants that were going to get closed in all these small and medium-sized cities, and some of these cities are the ones that the Nazis go to and they take a tour and talk around, and with the decline in economy and tensions, we thought to get our faces known by going and joining the solidarity actions with the Soldiers of Solidarity with their struggles against the union bureaucracy at Delphi.

So we want these two kinds of movements to mutually scratch each other’s back. If you’re coming to a thing and you’re from the outside but you’re already a known community or workplace militant from that area it can do a lot towards building solidarity around both issues and the beginnings of the political network or struggle for whatever comes up down the road. So here is how the working class, the attacks at Delphi, and the fascist stuff come together.

NB: You mentioned queer support work in the working class. Was there resistance on the part of people in the factories and in middle class queer activism against the perspective that you folks were bringing?

Ermler: Well, the queer movement wasn’t like it is today. It was very radical then and the left led the center. There wasn’t much resistance, even if many didn’t accept the whole perspective on the gay movement. In the factories people may have said things and people may have been annoyed, but people know they are living under a regime were you can’t afford to be at each other’s throat. Others were sympathetic, but uncomfortable with this sexuality and might have bought tickets to the event but didn’t show up. They weren’t going to overcome that right away.

In the neighborhoods it was a little different. You would run into sympathetic people, but you seemed like an outsider where you could be attacked. People know they don’t have to see you all the time because you’re not part of the factory regiment together. So more backward elements could lash out easier.

NB: You observed the LRBW and the developments among black workers in the auto plants at that time. Also did you follow the demonstration of Arab workers in Detroit against the UAW holding Israeli bonds? Could you tell us a little bit about these?

Ermler: I wasn’t in Detroit when the DRUM came about. I arrived shortly after the major demonstrations of Arab workers happened. My experience of the DRUM and the LRBW was as an observer after I arrived.

By this time these had split into two trends. You had the more intellectual, non-worker leadership, continuing to be political players in the city, but as part of the New America movement which had people like James Weinstein around Socialist Revolution and Michael Lerner. So the people that were responsible for the broader political work of the League and its international events had, by this time, become social democratic. They were always reaching out to other constituencies and searching to find ways to implement change, but by this time underneath their revolutionary rhetoric, they pulled right and united with various social democratic forces. Ken Cockerel got on city council. If he hadn’t died prematurely from a heart attack he would have been mayor of Detroit. So you had that on the one hand.

On the other you had the actual DRUM militants, the worker militants. The number of them that remained full-time political, ended up joining a Stalinist group out of California called the California Communist League. It was led by Nelson Perry which had a significant Black cadre based in the dockworkers who were in the Communist Party USA who split in 1958. They resurfaced after a period of internal study. A lot of these units had been seen as the more black nationalist units of the League and the less class, less Marxist and less internationalist wing. They reemerged as part of the new Black-led Marxist-Leninist thing that put out a call for party building and became the Communist Labor Party. After a stagist period of internal consolidation they resurfaced in the factories and became probably the largest revolutionary left force in Detroit and Flint in terms of numbers. They had a solid working class base and also in welfare rights organizations and community groups.

The impact of the whole DRUM struggle was that a cadre came out of it that went to work elsewhere and had a lot of experience and recruited other forces. Now the 1974-1975 recession hit auto and elsewhere very bad in this region—auto and steel related states. It was ferocious. National unemployment went up to 10%. Around here if you went to the unemployment office there were by 8 a.m. already lines three or four blocks long. You couldn’t find another job anywhere. It got hard and bleak. During that period the impact that DRUM had lost a lot. The recession was another thing that caused it to lose ground, not just the split. Despite the CLP people, the broader thing that DRUM represented was shrunk, hacked out and cut by the system too.

The LRBW was primarily in the Chrysler plants. Chrysler, when I got here, was notorious for having a large black work force and an almost total white supervision with a lot of racist attitudes. The city was also going through the transition where the white workers were disappearing from Detroit, many of whom voted for Wallace, and there was the backlash against the 1967 riot and the 1968 elections. Prior to going into the recession Chrysler had also axed a lot of the key militants. Then the DRUM caught on because of the racist regime in the factories. The auto bosses came out the other end and started to make the change. You started to see more black foremen. By the time you hit the 1980s you could see the continual process. You also saw how they would identify workers who had artistic talents and have them paint black pride murals and give him a full paycheck. You had more black women foremen too. So the regime met the demands of representation.

NB: It seems this story in the microcosm of Chrysler is in many ways the story of Detroit. We want to get back to that a little later. But before that could you reflect on the decline of auto and its effect on Detroit and the people living there?

Ermler: Well, the first thing to say about the decline of auto is to see how the city has been devastated. The decline was a long time coming. While there was still a lot of juice left in the industry, it really picked up pace with the major 1979-1982 recession. This was extremely deep. Also remember the Chrysler bail out. It almost went belly up. Besides the federal bail-out money, the company was restructured. The inner city plants—Chrysler was Detroit-centered—were tied to this.

In the late 1970s you had the Dodge Main closure and the Mack Avenue Stamping closure. You had, a couple of years later, the Pole Town struggle that was in the film Pole Town Lives. The plant wasn’t lost, but the old Clark Street Cadillac plant for GM was closed and the new plant was built. However, the price for keeping it in the city was that it wanted a 20 year tax-free ride from the city or they would move everything out. The new plants that were built, like my plant when it was running at peak, were approaching 4,000 working. But in the 1980s, when it was re-automated, it functioned at about a third of the production workers. Skilled trades didn’t take as big a hit. However, with the whole change in the production process and technology, the production workers were shrinking.

The city is devastated because you didn’t need an education and you could take your pick about where you wanted to work. That whole avenue was closed off to the black community in particular. The shrinking housing tax base and corporate flight led to a deteriorating school system. The black community got hit twice with good paying jobs getting cut and the school system, except with a few magnet schools, couldn’t provide another kind of training. Now you have the poorest large city in the country. By their own statistics this is so. There are whole areas bombed out looking. It’s a very bad situation. I know at one point the infant mortality rate was equal here to that of Honduras. City health went way down.

The effect on the auto workers was that obviously people are being presented with the fact they are supposed to give up their incentives to save their jobs. People were saying to themselves that if they lose this job it puts them in a dilemma and they are gonna have nothing. They couldn’t make a transition to anything else.

The UAW, Chrysler and the government came up with a package that, compared to the rest of the population, was a fairly decent wage and benefit package. But the first step was opened up in acceptance—and this is tied into the decline of the Left—the logic (or illogic) of capitalism. That is, in order to save your job you got to keep making the outfit you work for more profitable. But where does it end? People got caught up with that logic.

Just to illustrate and to flip back to potential racial tensions, a whole bunch of production workers, black and white, felt that if this job disappears what are they going to do. But you had the historical divide in skilled trades within production. Here is an example of this that didn’t happen at the initial concession, but when more concessions were being demanded a few years later. All the workers—production and skilled—overwhelmingly voted this contract down that demanded these cuts. The union came in with its big guns, but it was voted down a second time. They called a special mass meeting and they put it to us that we were going to keep voting this until it was voted “the right way.” You can see what democracy is about for them. This was the first time they called a mass meeting and it wasn’t for the wage struggle but for a retreat.

I’m not trying to overblow what this represented, but you could see the outlines of the thing. Faced with the third vote and a dire prediction of what could happen and how the work could go elsewhere in the Chrysler empire, a lot of black workers were conflicted. The most radical and conscious said, “I’m not going to knuckle under this even if it does bite me in the ass because I’ve got pride.” Those were a minority of individuals. Another group of people said, “Damn, if I blow this,” and they may have had kids starting college, “I’m going from a decent wage and benefits to McDonald’s wages and how am I going to do it.”

So a division shaped up in this mass meeting. You had a lot of white skilled workers there who were infected with more or less to varying degrees racism and imperial attitudes like a labor aristocracy. At the same time they felt that democracy and democratic rights were important and they didn’t want to be screwed over by elites and the union. This contradiction is the American attitude. The union bosses were forcing the vote that was going the other way.

A lot of the black workers were very solemn and saw this was a very bad situation and they would probably end up voting “yes” the next time around. Sections of the white skilled tradesmen were standing up and saying from a narrow and backward mindset that the UAW was Communist-dominated and everyone knows that in the Communist countries they say they are the saviors of the workers but they dominate them and allow them no rights. At one meeting one of the skilled tradesmen came up to me and said something like “we appreciate the stance you’re taking and trying to get the production workers to take a stand, but you’re going to learn the lesson that the things that are holding the union back is that the bureaucracy are a bunch of lawyers and the other thing is the black workers as a whole are holding this back culturally.” You could see the racist attitudes.

The background here is important. At this point the UAW is a big institution with a serious publications division, which at this time was being run by one of the leaders of the Communist Labor Party. I think he had left them at this point but he was a friend of Tom Hayden. There were other leftists from the anti-dogmatic trend of the Maoists in there. The UAW magazine would come to every worker’s home. It was against the death squads in El Salvador. It was heralding union rights in the South African struggle. It had a section for “cultural workers.” They were championing labor rights internationally.

It came out in this same period that at one of the down river plants a white gay skilled tradesmen came out as part of a gay counter-demonstration in struggle over the Cracker Barrel chain’s homophobic hiring practices. Other autoworkers from the Christian fundamentalist side saw him as the pro-gay side and gave him crap. The union bureaucracy intervened from its social democratic perspective at that time and warned the workers not to mess with this guy. One major union official went to a major gay rights march in Washington and the UAW highlighted it in their magazine. At the same time this leftist vibe is going on in the bureaucracy, when it comes to fight the company on the contract and the work struggle it wanted to attack the democracy of its own workers.

The larger context here is that the UAW bureaucrats were saying we can’t fight the single capitalists—which is a true statement—but then they would say we have to win at the ballot box and elect Democrats—it’s who controls the government they would say. They were doing all this leftist stuff—and it’s all necessary—but it’s along the lines of a liberal and social democratic basis. It tries to come down on any direct action and alienates the militant but backward sectors of the workers.

This all led to a conservative thing. Generally, in the 1980s everything got reduced to where we were told everything that came up in the factory would be resolved with votes for the Democrats. The union regime got more, even more conservative than it already was and workers felt even more powerless.

At this point I took the first opportunity for a buy-out. Our political work in the RSL was coming to an end and we were turning to the anarchist regroupment project represented by Love and Rage. I wanted to deemphasize the work I was doing and have the freedom to move around and put myself in more youthful and more radical places. Part of it was also escaping the drudgery of the work. As hard as the work was when I came in, there were political dividends, but these had disappeared and worn off.

I briefly ended up in the UAW in a third-tier sweatshop during the Love and Rage and Anti-Racist Action (ARA) days. At my age at that point I couldn’t keep up with the work though. I think ARA—doing a balance sheet of its positives and negatives—missed an opportunity here. It was part because of the overwhelming domination—although it wasn’t everybody—of the idea of the “rejection of work.” ARA missed an opportunity to have a piece of its people try and shift its focus from the punk and anti-racist skinhead scene and go into a belt of factories around here in Detroit that would be represented in industries nationwide to find similar situations.

There was a huge belt of small factories in the suburbs that did parts manufacturing, which peaked during the Clinton boom years. They moved much of it either down south or overseas. These were filled with majority young workers of all races and many immigrants. Many were unionized, but they were third-tier secondary status. In the factory that I was at, I was part of an organized movement to reject the contract and the UAW came in and did the same thing they did at Chrysler. Only this time they said if you don’t vote this contract the “right way” come Friday then you will have a non-unionized plant. They said out in the Battle Creek area there’s a non-unionized plant and the flatbed trucks are going to load up the dyes and move it there.

We said look you’re supposed to organize against this and prevent it. And they said look, you are unhappy about the speed of the work, the forced overtime and the regime here. You’re not happy about wages, but if this was non-union you wouldn’t have the health and benefit package you have so quit crying and shut up. So there was a rebellion against the UAW, but ARA didn’t get organized in that. There was also racist issues that many of these immigrant and black workers were facing in the suburbs. When they came out to the suburbs or lived there they were harassed by police and racists.

NB: So you have a situation where management and the union chiefs are saying it’s either McDonald’s or this current job. Or they say well, if you won’t take a cut in this then the benefits are going. People today continue facing decisions like these alone or in small groups, unseen and disconnected. What’s the alternative? What else can people do?

Ermler: Well, I think the stuff that the UAW bureaucracy points out which goes back historically with the Left, the working class can’t win real changes if it confronts things as individuals and not as a class. It can’t keep staying within the confines of this whole collective bargaining law that had come into place since the CIO upsurge. Most workers are ignorant of the power they have collectively and there is a certain cynicism that says, “My union keeps selling me out then they all must be on the take,” and they don’t realize it’s a political problem. There’s people who aren’t crooks. It’s that union leaders have bad political interests and perspectives. They put together coalitions that say they are going to beat the Republicans.

We have to confront people as a class, the labor movement, workers’ organizations, have to be championing demands that people on the outside can have possibilities opened up for them and we have to be raising that programmatically. People have to say resistance, no matter how militant, has to be generalized with more sectors coming in. Workers have to be reminded again that this is against a whole set of labor laws and the union leaders don’t want to fight this. Union treasuries can be fined and bankrupt and pensions can be attacked.

We also don’t have the type of people that might risk more than a few days jail—a symbolic thing. The whole course of the last decades and decades hasn’t bred that kind of people. We have to get back to thinking in terms of the mass strike and general strike, which is “illegal.” We have to realize that we don’t have any organizations that can help implement that now so we also have to tell people that you got to build these by starting small and federating with other people. This should be mixed with the education about the larger questions. And this has to be done in the context of building a base that isn’t easy and takes time. There has to be union organizing among the majority of workers who aren’t unionized in this country.

There needs to be demands on the ruling class to cough up money—say of the war budget—and put it under union control. A strong movement needs to demand from local capitalists that there needs to be investment in this area and re-training when needed. These must be administered not by management or the rulers but it has to be separate money not taken from workers’ wages. It has to be administered by union and community representatives. Of course, in a period of transition these people aren’t going to be revolutionaries, but this process can show the outlines of what a self-managing society can be and open up those possibilities. We need to talk about the idea of metropolitan councils. It’s the idea of the central labor council, but actually radical that aims toward revolutionary workers’ councils.

I’ve had workers say to me because they have respected what I have done on the job at various times and they ask this same question, “What do you think should be done?” And you lay it out and they say, “Well, I don’t see that happening.” And you tell them there needs to be long-range planning and they say, “Well, that’s a lot of work.” People’s job and family are on their minds. We could be in a situation where people are going to keep retreating until they say enough is enough and then we are going to see something. I don’t know when that is coming or what form, but it will have to be on a new generation to a large degree. But only this is going to reverse the defeat and deal with the present attacks on workers.

NB: You observed and did solidarity with the 1995 Detroit newspaper strike. What happened and why was it important?

Ermler: The newspaper strike was outright pitched war. The police were heavily involved and there were battles against them. The union was in guerrilla warfare around the newspaper distribution sites. It was fueled by the ranks but there was a section of the bureaucracy that knew that it was a test of a union town. For instance, the UAW and some of the other unions were supporting it and had a kind of intelligence network in the upper echelons of the company because they kept moving the distribution sites. The newspaper was a moneymaker because of the advertising so the company had to get it out.

Striking workers and union leaders devised a strategy of preventing the distribution and so the company was moving them around. What would happen is that the UAW and IBT halls were active and would host—and here’s a case where the bureaucracy was active—on a weekend night before the newspaper issue came out and organize car caravans to go out. They accepted other union members and leftists among others. Everyone would move in and block those sites in. The companies had hired private armies—made up partially of returning vets—outfitted with full riot gear and their own intelligence that would shadow militants. People were run off roads. When the local police department—especially in the suburbs—couldn’t help the private armies were there. People would, in solidarity with the strike, attack their fenced-in areas where they had towers guarding sites and pulled them down with trucks and burned cars in front of them. There were pitched battles with these mercenaries. Part of this was sanctioned by the unions. This went on for months.

Eventually what happened was the UAW and some of the other unions along with a coalition of striking unions were threatened by the state that unless they rolled this stuff up they would be attacked with Rico suits. The unions acted then and rolled it up quick. Everything moved then to a boycott and a bunch of union money got siphoned in to produce an alternative paper run by the union. It’s a great idea that outlines the kind of thing we would like to see. But of course the people putting it out had it fairly moderate.

That went on for awhile and they went to non-violent struggle and sometimes blocked the Ambassador Bridge on a weekend. It was largely a white unionist struggle. There were a few key black reporters. The black majority of the city saw no stake in this struggle. There were some attempts to reach out. People really didn’t know how. There was educational work under Action Coalition of Strikers and Supporters (ACOST). They reached out to black community leaders. But it was all too moderate and didn’t know how to link up with struggles in the community.

Locally, in ARA and as a union member me and others were flyering and doing solidarity. A Love and Rage local was coming together around that time in Detroit, but people’s energies in the strike were already waning. ARA flyered with an eye toward uniting the recent high school walk-outs—like at Southwest and Pershing—at the time over conditions of the textbooks among other things. ARA and a few other people were trying to make contact with those students over that. And then at mass meetings I was trying to make motions that people there support those walkouts. But it was too much for a small group of people.

The educational-type work alone of ACOST and visiting black community leaders won out at this time. Eventually, the strike was lost and they were suing for peace and trying to rescue a little bit of a deal. They finally called a giant all-unions march and about 100,000 people came from around the country. Only at this time did we have a Love and Rage local set up. In our flyering we were saying the way to reverse this thing now would be to have a tri-county general strike, the labor movement has to fight through direct action and funds have to be put under union and community control, the infrastructure and educational system has to be overhauled. And we counterposed that to casino building and Hard Rock Cafe building that was going on in Detroit.

Also at that time ARA had done pickets against the new juvenile detention center building in Greek Town. The reaction in Love and Rage was to suppress this flyering which we wanted to run in the Love and Rage paper. The faction that controlled the paper said that the demands were oriented toward labor and community organizing and the demands were too abstract. They branded it ultra-left and “Trotskyite.” This was a small piece of the faction fight in Love and Rage. This faction that opposed us thought the solution to moving anarchism out of the anarchist ghetto was to attach themselves to Anarcho-Maoist stuff that was happening among some young people of color activists on both coasts. And so they wanted to politically drop the explicit anarchism and embrace the history of Che, Mao or Ho on the basis of identity politics.

So our efforts were branded utopian, but earlier in the strike some mass meetings in locals and union officials independently were embracing the idea of organizing for a general strike. The larger union bureaucracy was saying to this, “will take this strongly under advisement.” But the ranks had a sense that they had to organize over and above this bureaucracy and that you can’t rely on them and trust them. But the self-organized structure wasn’t there to sustain it.

NB: What explains the militancy of the Newspaper strike?

Ermler: It was partially due to an attitude on the part of the ranks that this was a Rubicon. That this was a union town and they can’t go any further. Also there was a lot of anger among the rank-and-file of the various unions where there was previously the joint operating agreement where the editorial staffs survived intact, but the people who produced the paper was consolidated and the separate plants and the news were consolidated and there was massive job loss on the blue collar end of the newspaper trade, which they agreed and then came more demands. People were saying, “We went along although some of us resisted, but we aren’t going to put up with it anymore.” There was also that thing happening—like when we were talking about the division between skilled and production workers—when those skilled workers were saying let’s vote the contract down again and they lost their jobs, they wouldn’t plunge to Macdonald’s level wages. They had skills and they may lose 7 or 8 dollars an hour, but they wouldn’t be plunging all the way down.

NB: You now work at the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. What are the workplace and union issues there?

Ermler: There’s been a lot of struggle. Militancy would be stretching the thing, but there’s been demonstration of a lot of unions in resistance to a lot of cuts that have come because there is a general crisis in the budget. Also, taxes and services have been an issue. There’s been joint union and community actions. Lots of ferment and some direct action for some amount of time. In the past, like in the 1970s or early 1980s, if you went to an autoworker’s thing you would see a lot of the left. But the left is shrunk so if you go to a city worker thing you don’t see it. And city workers have largely been off the radar of the Left anyway.

However, you are beginning to see much more Left presence, including some of the new generation, in some of the union leadership and community groups. You have that going on. I said militancy is a stretch, but there is some. Yet it hasn’t gone beyond protests at city council or filing grievances. When the cafeteria workers were fired and outsourced in the school system they did some direct action by blocking school buses.

Now the water and sewage department is a huge institution. Its more than Detroit. It serves 6 million people. It’s on a great scale. It’s one of the largest in the country and even the world. The wastewater treatment plant is one of the largest in the world. So I just wanted to give you an idea of some of the scale.

Here there have been numerous attempts in the state legislature by rightwing forces to try and take control of the department away from Detroit for the suburbs. Rates have gone up, but it is some of the lower rates compared to nationwide. But it’s relative. There’s also a racist thing where a lot of the suburban whites don’t like it that just now the department is controlled by a predominately black city government and a majority of the workers are black.

What’s also at stake is suburban growth. I’m now a roving operator and I’ve seen areas that just a few years ago were woods and fields now have massive condos as far as you go. Water infrastructure has to follow this with new stations and lines. With this you can control where the development goes. So there’s a faction fight between contractors and allies in the government. Another piece of this is that there’s a crisis in the general budget. There’s a severe slashing of city services and workers getting laid off. The Water and Sewage Department and the Public Lighting Department—all part of the AFSCME local—are under the hatchet.

For example, the Water and Sewage Department cleared 570 million for the city. But there’s a tax going on the workers where the less skilled worker positions—like custodial and security—are being decimated by being outsourced. The department is also not expanding the skilled trades workers like maintenance—instrument techs, electricians and millwrights. That has been done over the contract where instead of hiring as city employees the city is cutting its training division as a way of cutting expenses and shopping with contractors.

Some of it is turning to the old building trades unions like in the AFL-CIO. They have had hits in the economy so its not just bringing in non-union people. It’s bringing also union people in who might even be paid more than the equivalent of the workers in the department, but the city has no pension and health obligations to them. The public employee unions are losing out. The interests of the building trades and other unions are set against the city employees that are AFSCME and predominately black. The racial conflict is set up again.

For political purposes for the politicians this is a cash cow. They set up their alliances and employ laid off union labor via the contractors. Also the Democratic Party plays in this. The previous mayor who has a squeaky clean reputation and was co-chair of the Democratic National Committee. He didn’t have to carry out layoffs because of the booming economy under Clinton. But in raising money for Gore he was handing out contracts. For every contract they got Water and Sewage the appropriate PACS got money. It was a fund raising gimmick for the politicians. Now the economic upsurge is gone. The present mayor is raising and beefing up his PAC and political alliances, but now its being done—this cow that is being milked that is profitable to cement these alliances—is being carried out on the backs of AFSCME and a few other non-AFSCME union workers.

For instance, I’m in a classification skilled position. There’s only three of us on the roster in my district. Holes in other areas have to be covered by us 24/7 and its been going on like that for years and there’s shortages. They won’t hire. But regardless the trained workforce isn’t there. AFSCME should be fighting for training programs in high schools and these kids should be hired. There’s a way to build that youth and labor alliances and line up various church and community groups that would like to see this happen for young people. But they aren’t doing it.

For awhile there was competitive testing from the street. But AFSCME, with the attacks on it, have put a requirement in that for anyone who isn’t already on the union roles or have seniority (who are shrinking anyway) they had to have time as an AFSCME member. In other words, the unions are defending a shrinking pie rather than expanding the pie. It’s not a good situation. The unions are missing an opportunity to start building the idea and presence of unionism and struggle. It’s being missed because of the constant defensive thinking and too much, including the most combative locals who are leading resistance, of a tendency to fall into this defensive thinking.

This narrow thinking comes out in other ways. My local leadership has done a few decent things, but they are also caught up with most of their time in the state-wide and national campaign to defend affirmative action at elite universities for kids that are going to become part of the liberal professions like doctors and lawyers, but then they won’t fight for young people in the city to get hired and they are putting up their own barriers. They are not using union muscle for putting focus on working class kids who can become millwrights, electricians etc. There is a class bias. My local tries to build alliances but it isn’t taking up this urgent task and working its way deeper into the class. It isn’t concerned with training and erosion of skills which endangers the job and services. And this is what the rightwing in the area who wants to take over the infrastructure partially points to as an excuse.

NB: You talked about the union response or lack of one. What about the department workers?

Ermler: Some of the less skilled workers who are having their jobs axed may see that when less trained workers get hired they can get bumped one or two pay grades without getting the training. Some have the attitude on the job that things are management’s problem and narrowly interpret their jobs. That’s a problem. On the other hand, some of the more skilled workers agree with some of these things I’m talking about here. But some are in different unions and there isn’t yet the energy or vision to build cross-union struggles. The electricians are in the IBEW. They are a minority in which the majority is part of the private electrical industry who has had a lot of their people put to work on these projects. So they can’t change the politics of their locals because the local leadership is solving its unemployment problem. What would need to be built is across these trades, skills and unions. There’s been some serious resistance but its unsuccessful because of this. People don’t have a history of experience at self-organizing. Some have made attempts but there is uneven political consciousness.

There are other things happening. Some workers that have been part of the most serious resistance are two black women. However, at one of the locations an Iraqi-American was hired as an apprentice. You have this anti-immigrant and anti-Arab feeling. They went and said that this could endanger the water supply with this fifth column. This is probably the less genuine motivation. Instead they were also saying that the job should go to a native born black person, this is a black city, and what are you bringing an Arab in for. Some of the people I have respect for in how they have fought have said that a law ought to be passed that until every native born black person has a decent job there should be a ban on immigration. But they are generally against the war, and hate Bush and Cheney. The consciousness out there is problematic.

NB: Do you see a more general crisis of this infrastructure—not just the water but health care, education, transportation? If so, is it locally or nationally?

Ermler: I saw on TV an author being interviewed that has a book out on the coming crisis. All the major utilities and services have been about saving costs and the bean counters are in control. Those that oversee these don’t come from the ranks or those who have been on the job and know the work. The “bottom line” isn’t the whole thing. Also, the proliferation of immigrant workers with specific skills have filled the ranks of the infrastructure workers and when they start to stay in their countries of origin this is going to be a big problem. Management and officials are destroying the in-house training and the support for training in public institutions like in the community college system.

The author’s whole thesis was that this skilled immigrant labor is not going to be there forever. I have seen our in-house recruiting and training division burned and slashed. Some of my sites are next to terminals for the natural gas piping outfit, Wolverine. I do a lot of work with Detroit Edison that just had layoffs. People at these places are saying that they don’t know how private energy utilities are and these guys are telling me it’s the same thing with them. They say, “We don’t know where all this is going and when a bunch of us retire whether there will be the people with the knowledge base to run these things and respond to crises and as the energy use grows.” This is also true for emergencies. They won’t have the hands-on-type knowledge.

Similar things happen in the medical profession. The Detroit News did a lead on the drastic shortages of registered nurses since they are quitting because of the excessive overtime and overwork. They are being worked to death. They are getting paid well and even signing bonuses, but it’s brutal. According to the news article they aren’t slashing in medical technology. But there’s not enough of getting people ready in the school system in the city for these jobs. It’s pouring out of Wayne State, but the limited seats in these schools can’t fill the demands of the industry. Immigration is solving it. There are no labor and community coalition to address these problems. This seems to be the case in health care no matter where you go. This whole “bottom line” thinking and “profit motive is everything” is disintegrating the bonds of society, but it hasn’t become completely apparent yet. It’s a threat to social solidarity. The political cost of large concentrations of youth with no skills will be when they lash out. This will get a response from racists and law-and-order types. So this is where infrastructure is going.

NB: Why is it important for a labor movement to address these problems, particularly for a self-organized movement?

Ermler: This infrastructure is essential for a healthy, just and productive society. Much of what I talked about before applies here. Broader alliances need to be built around this question. The building of alliances between the skilled and unskilled. The shrinking pie of union jobs can’t be protected unless those who have been left outside the reservoir are linked up with. There is a need for radical mass public works to channel people able to man these facilities, which goes along ways toward cementing alliances between the employed and unemployed. That will play a major role as this stuff gets worse in isolating the Right as people drop into the dog-eat-dog mentality, let alone the kind of unity you need of a even bigger and deeper program.

NB: How would an economic planning model around these issues from a self-managed perspective emerge?

Ermler: First of all I could talk on and on what you could do with Detroit water because I know this area and this department. My knowledge is concrete. Some of what I said has broad generalizations that are applicable across infrastructure and nationally, especially for the so-called rustbelt. The problems aren’t as pronounced in economically growing areas with viable tax bases like in the cities in the sunbelt, and the Pacific Northwest. But the movement to build this is to be putting emphasis on much of what I’ve been saying.

You also have to imagine a movement that is not based just on students and the liberal professions, but those who have primarily spent years learning the ropes in these jobs. They need to get together with people in related industries and with ecologists and others and working out a concrete program for the various industries. When I think of the anarchist perspective—although I’m obviously for all of these concrete projects, whether it happens in united fronts or not—we need to build caucuses and industrial fractions that have national meetings. People with this desire need to link up.

For instance, such teachers in inner city schools come together nationally and come up with a program that addresses the problems of teaching in these public schools. The more that happens I think the better prepared folks are for the crisis and the future of a movement. In their locales and areas they can build the unity between certain sectors and your milieu in the service or industry. A self-management program can grow and deepen that way.

NB: Could you talk about the transition in Detroit to a predominately black city government and police force from a predominately white one?

Ermler: When Mayor Young came into power one of the major things he was riding in on was the anti-police terror, stop the STRESS campaign. It really helped give him a real grassroots and spirited push beyond conventional politics. It put him into power. To deal with this new reality a think tank, called New Detroit, made up of corporate leaders of the city came together. They knew this was the way they had to go and deal with it. They were basically fine with it. Young had decent relations with them.

There was a lot of resentment on the part of the large sections of the white community. Along with this, like what I said earlier about the auto industry jobs for black workers in possibilities that provided, black workers were buying houses in areas they weren’t allowed to earlier now with decent paying jobs. There was white resistance to this. In the northwest and west side there were numerous pipe bombings. Other neighborhoods there were cross burnings, drive-by shootings, break-ins that trashed houses with graffiti.

There was resistance in the police department. Some people are old enough to remember one picture in Newsweek of an off duty Detroit cop at white cops picket over affirmative action, squaring off with and pulling his gun at a black cop. There was one report of one black officer’s wife being sexually assaulted in a precinct. I was driving down Mack Avenue one night and on a black radio station there was an emergency bulletin put out from the Michigan Guardians, which was an organization of all-black police officers in the state for representation since the DPO was still white-dominated. I never found out what it was for, but you can see that people were listening to and watching the tension.

You had fascist involvement in all of this. You had a long history of racism in Michigan. Wallace carried the white working class vote when he ran. In 1919/1920 the Klan came just a few votes from winning office in Michigan and they weren’t even on the ballot in a write in campaign. You had the race riots in the 1940s with whites attacking blacks. A whole history of racial violence. You had the hate strike at Packard Motors in the 1940s against black upgrading. So none of these racist attitudes were surprising.

A number of Klan and Nazi were involved in the harassment and violence on the west and northwest side. In the Harper area a Catholic fascist group called Breakthrough were involved. They were a major force on the northeast side. They defended some of the cops in some of the police brutality cases. During the Central American solidarity period they would attack and smash up support group movie showings at Wayne State. That was all part of the transition.

On the economic side, I referred earlier to the closing of the Chrysler plants and the capital flight. There was also massive white flight. The city’s population peaked in the 1950s at 2 million; right now we are somewhere just below 900,000. This shows you what kind of decline has happened here. In the 1940s this city had a housing shortage, now there are just empty spaces. Trees and weeds are taking over. With this you had shrinkage of the tax base and pressure on city services for those left behind. The city has an income tax which a lot of cities don’t. Compared to cities that do, it’s one of the highest in the nation. For those who have stayed and have jobs, they are being taxed higher and higher to maintain declining services.

NB: Could you talk more about that emerging suburban and city divide? What was the liberal response to this crisis you were just talking about? What was the response of the black working class to this transition?

Ermler: I think the fact that a black government was in power for that period of time, carrying out a total transformation of city departments and the police, given how bad Detroit has been for such a long time from the 1974-1975 recession, a lot of unemployment, and another bad recession came in 1979-82, prevented more rebellions.

In the early 1990s there were a lot of police killings of people. Without the black police and city officials there would have been more of an explosion. There were some localized explosions. Over on Livernois and Fenkell the cops were protecting somebody who executed a young car burglar and the police defended him in his bar. That turned into a rebellion. Youth that were rounded up were put on trial for a death that happened during the riot. The Livernois Five they were called.

We helped build the Livernois Five defense. They weren’t convicted. No one else on the left wanted to touch it. They didn’t want to touch it because the guy who died was a white guy—a concentration camp survivor. A number of the Maoist groups were interested but they didn’t want to be in the same arena as us. The CLP threw their weight in, providing one of their best attorneys. But the point is that there is a thing here where one of the lessons of the 60s rebellion was “what did we get out of it.” Much of the black neighborhoods got burned down.

Younger generations though, with the police killings in the early 1990s are a little more rebellious. But the fact that they are confronted with a black power structure has made sure that nothing has been a major flash point. A lot of people may‘ve heard of the Malice Green murder. In that case the guy was killed by two white cops in an arrest that got brutally out of control. During that same period black cops had killed a number of young black youth. Sections of the city and the juridical apparatus came together. The focus was on that case and there wasn’t a lot of press coverage of the other cases. Of course, this started a counter white rightwing movement of police families, but it kept the black community’s attention on that one case and many were kept in the dark about these other killings. I did run into a angry community march coming from one of the funerals of those killed and a lot of youth stopped traffic on Michigan Avenue. There was that with the transition. It’s kept the lid on to a certain degree, but how much longer is a whole other thing.

The other thing that has shaped up in the city and suburban divide is the multi-racial suburbs, but you still have an overwhelming black city and suburban areas with whole sections of them doing rather well. Oakland county is one the most economically well-off counties in the nation. If you ride around out there a number of businesses were part of the white flight.

This divide is playing a factor in the issues around mass transit. The city has an abysmal record here and the whole region really does. But the system is under attack in the suburbs. Whole sections don’t want to foot the tax bill, even though it’s a small portion of their taxes. The whole attitude is I have a car why do I have to spend money on this. There is also racist reasons for this. There have been serious outbreaks and mass meetings for cutting mass transit because it brings black workers out there for retail jobs. The businesses want it though. The NAACP and unions want it as part of having a metro transit. But suburban politicians say we don’t use it so we don’t want it. The retailers aren’t listened to in this case.

It has also divided, in the broadest sense the left, union and religious groups. One of the main movers behind getting a decent transit system—on an anti-union basis—is a religious group called MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategies) and they have grown in strength a multiracial coalition of various church bodies. They have been anti-war and played a role in organizing the recent major immigrant demonstrations. Even prior to it becoming a big national issue they organized in the suburbs defending immigrants. A lot of the immigration population is in the suburbs.

Stuff has come up here where the bus drivers union for the city are on two different sides of the issue. The bus mechanics have done things to sabotage plans moving to regional transit because they are worried about their own conditions in the plan. The drivers have been for it for their own reasons. We have this situation where forces that should be united on projects for economic well-being and services can’t even come up eye-to-eye on a plan. Some say that the forces that are involved in advocating this regional transit is part of a suburban plot but people don’t realize it’s multiracial.

Everyone has banked on a conservative strategy. The broader union and labor movement here hasn’t come together and in an aggressive fashion put together pro-worker and pro-poor programs and along with more liberal forces which, in these cases, are usually left to the Right or corporate forces to come up with the plans. The unions and the Left leave themselves to simply respond. It’s a demoralizing strategy. In the case of trying to regionalize the water department, it’s coming from the Right in the suburbs. Also in education the decentralization of it is a problem. Regionalizing the educational system would make it so that the wealthier suburbs and the poorer city would be tapping into the same sources. The whiter and wealthier suburbs don’t want that. No one is even touching this problem.

Taken from New Beginnings: A Journal of Independent Labor
Originally posted on July 1st, 2007

Posted By

Juan Conatz
Jul 13 2011 21:35

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Juan Conatz
Aug 6 2012 07:39

Was going to mention this when I posted this up, but I'm really glad this interview happened. Mike is a wealth of information. Actually this interview isn't too far what an actual conversation with him looks like. He needs to write a damn book!