Labor Day 2012

I haven’t had much to say for a while. I changed departments, I changed shifts, I moved out my beloved city. In the midst of all the upheaval, I had no insights to offer, merely my own sense of being constantly disoriented, and little bit displaced, despite all these moves being my own choices. Just getting settled, I suppose.

I haven’t gotten too much more settled (it might just be a personality trait), but I have set myself up enough that I feel like I can see the bigger picture around me just a little bit more than I had for the last few months. It was every day, just hit the alarm clock, roll out of bed, try to learn the job and just make it home. Stay awake long enough to make lunch for tomorrow and then do it all again. Alarm clock, try to learn the job, fight traffic, make lunch, fall asleep on couch. 

But enough of that. It’s Labor Day weekend, and I intend to celebrate as well and as honorably as I can. If I have the energy, I will go tomorrow to the parade. Last year, I marched with the tiny contingent of a DPS school board candidate, and I met the folks from Autoworker Caravan. They opened my eyes to a lot of issues within the auto industry and made clear that supporting your union doesn’t always mean toeing the party line. I’ve also learned that sometimes NO ONE understands what’s happening on the floor except those of us on the floor. Not the leadership, not the dissidents. That’s part of the reason I write this blog, to try and make sense of what IS happening on the ground in our auto industry. It’s also, I suppose, to reach out to those who romanticize (or demonize) life in the darkest days of a mighty, mighty Union industry. Big Capital hasn’t been this powerful since the Gilded Age of the Roaring 20s. There is constant talk about economic recovery, but here in Detroit, we’re slow to see that.

Instead, we have people scooping up land, prospecting in schools like it’s some kind of Gold Rush. The unions are stressing a constitutional amendment ballot initiative this election season, the Protect Our Jobs amendment that would enshrine the right to collective bargaining in the Michigan Constitution. However, the ballot initiative that is more far-reaching and has much scarier consequences is Public Act 4, known as the Emergency Manager Act. It allows for the governor to appoint Emergency Managers over pretty much any government body that finds itself in debt. Sometimes the debt can be as little as $10,000. I owe more than that on my car. People I know owe more than that on their credit cards. We’re talking about entities like entire cities, school boards and the like. Government bodies that deal in large sums of money should not be held to household accounting limits. Particularly not by Lansing, which is a snake pit on its best days and looks like a Keystone Kops movie the rest of the time.

This amounts to taxation without representation, and it’s being applied almost exclusively to majority Black cities (like Benton Harbor, Highland Park) and school boards, like Detroit. It provides no accountability for those who would spend our tax money at the behest of a governor who clearly disrespects us. It provides no recourse for those of us who would do our civic and elect different leadership. Instead, it pillages the electorate, steals the money that we would use to govern ourselves. It violates every sense of home rule, a principle which is the foundation of American Democracy — the notion that we need not be micromanaged from afar, and that we can make our own decisions.

So this Labor Day, I will probably drag my tired bones from my suburban hamlet and make my way down to the parade, which is staging this year, for the first time ever, in my old neighborhood. If only I had held out a little longer, it would have been right in my front yard. I’ve been homesick for my neighborhood since I moved earlier in the summer, but this was almost too ironic for me. Last year the parade turnout was pretty small. I hope that it’s better this year. In the meantime, we continue the struggle for self-determination. It’s our right and duty as citizens of a democracy to cry out loudly and angrily when that democracy is subverted. It’s our right and duty as human beings to cry out loudly and angrily when the rich steal from the poor and the powerful abuse the weak. It is our privilege and joy to do so in the company of others. The Labor Day Parade in Detroit is the only one like it and that’s because THIS was the Promised Land. We work hard. We deserve respect. We will enjoy the fruits of our labor, even if we have to go wrest them back from the table of those who would steal them.

In Solidarity,

Stepchild in the Promised Land

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About Stepchild in the Promised Land: Notes from a Tier-Two Autoworker

A third-generation Detroiter, Wayne State grad, mother and tier-two autoworker.
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