Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is using the economic mess Wall Street created as a smokescreen to do what corporate-backed politicians like him have always wanted to do: dismantle public services and destroy workers' rights.
Snyder came into office claiming he was neither anti-union nor anti-worker. Yet, many of his actions are intended to push an ideological agenda that won't create jobs and hurts working families.
One of the worst of these is Public Act 4, the Emergency Financial Managers Law, more aptly known as the Local Dictator Law. Under this law, Governor Snyder can send appointees into poor cities and take them over -- and he gets to decide what criteria merit a takeover. Snyder's appointed dictators can control budgets, nullify labor contracts, sell off city property, dismiss elected officials and privatize public services. These managers can take whatever actions they choose, all the while bypassing city councils and school boards. They have not been elected by the voters and are not accountable to them, yet they are making decisions that will affect services, workers and communities for years to come. No wonder some observers also refer to Public Act 4 as corporate martial law.
You'd think that appointees with such authority would be required to have exceptional qualifications and credentials for the job. But here's what they need: five years' experience and demonstrable expertise in business, financial or local or state budgetary matters. And who gets to decide what "demonstrable expertise" means? Governor Snyder, of course.
In Pontiac, City Councilman Kermit Williams laments that the whole city has been privatized. In fact, when the city's fire department was closed on Christmas Eve, he learned about it in the newspaper. In Flint, the emergency manager wants to restructure -- i.e., do away with -- collective bargaining agreements.
In addition to Pontiac and Flint, Benton Harbor, Ecorse and the Detroit Public Schools are also under emergency management, and Detroit could be next. Most of these cities are predominantly African-American. The NAACP has noted that Snyder's law disenfranchises voters. This is a particular insult to the memory of the many activists who fought and died in the South, fighting to end the poll taxes and literacy tests that kept many black Americans out of the voting booth. While the Emergency Financial Managers Law doesn't take away citizens' right to vote, it certainly renders their votes meaningless. These steps won't lift up workers and their families. They will only disenfranchise and demoralize workers.
If Governor Snyder really cared about workers, he wouldn't leave them to foot the bill for Wall Street's greed and incompetence. Michigan residents understand this. That's why they've joined AFSCME members throughout the state in collecting enough signatures to put the Local Dictator Law on the ballot in November. Next week, the signatures will be presented to the Michigan Secretary of State.
We know how high the stakes are in this fight. If this law stays on the books in Michigan, it will soon be replicated by copycat politicians at all levels searching for ways to break unions and tear down public services. And they will be helped by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a network of corporate-backed policymakers and lawmakers. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that the financial managers' law was spawned by ALEC.
Consider this: The emergency manager in Pontiac is a former executive with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The center is one of a network of free-market think tanks that exist to privatize public services and advance anti-union, anti-worker laws. One of the center's supporters is Charles Koch, a billionaire who helped fund the attacks on collective bargaining in Wisconsin a year ago, and also supports ALEC. These linkages mean that bad legislation can travel faster these days than the flu bug in an elementary school.
We didn't fight for our rights, as Americans or as working people, only to surrender them to a governor who is cavalierly defying the will of the people. And we will not rest until full democracy is restored to the people of Michigan.
Follow Lee A. Saunders on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AFSCME