JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
On Thursday, a U.S. bankruptcy judge suspended lawsuits challenging the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings, ruling that emergency manager Kevyn Orr is a valid city official. Outside the federal courthouse, hundreds of Detroit residents protested, including firefighters and pensioners who fear their monthly payments will be reduced. In the next step of court proceedings, Detroit officials must demonstrate to the bankruptcy court that the city is insolvent.
Now joining us to talk about these latest developments is Frank Hammer. He’s a retired General Motors employee and former president and chairman of Local 909 in Warren, Michigan. He now organizes with the Autoworker Caravan, an association of active and retired autoworkers who advocate for worker demands in Washington.
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Thank you so much for joining us, Frank.
FRANK HAMMER, COFOUNDER, AUTOWORKER CARAVAN: Thank you for having me, Jaisal. And I’ll add that I’m also a Detroit resident of over 40 years.
Noor: That’s right, a longtime Detroit resident and activist. So, Frank, now that the bankruptcy proceedings will go forward, what are pensioners doing to ensure that they will keep receiving their monthly payments?
Hammer: I haven’t seen any official pronouncements, but I did hear that the unions representing the city workers are going to continue to challenge the attempt to file the Chapter 9 bankruptcy. So I think they’re going to a federal court to file an appeal. But I haven’t seen any official pronouncements yet.
Noor: So, Frank, Detroit’s bankruptcy has been blamed on falling revenue, which has been a problem in Detroit for years. Can you give us a recap? What accounts for this falling revenue?
Hammer: Well, I can point to two things, one that I mentioned in my prior interview with The Real News, and that was basically the exit of manufacturing jobs from the city of Detroit that’s been going on over a long stretch of time. So with declining jobs, people leave. And therefore we have a declining population. Two hundred thousand left over the first decade of the 21st century. And then, on top of that, you have a financial crisis where the banks engage in predatory loan practices and trigger a massive number of foreclosures and evictions here in the city of Detroit. I think we have 90,000 vacant properties, probably, as a result of people having to move, but also people being cast out of their homes. And institutions that are behind this decline are none other than the Bank of America, which has basically swindled people, thousands and thousands of people in Detroit out of their homes. And as a result, you also have a dwindling tax base, and presto, we have a major city going into a bankruptcy proceeding.
Noor: So, Frank, how would you compare the federal government’s response to Detroit’s bankruptcy to how they responded when the carmakers in Michigan were going bankrupt?
Hammer: Well, I think that what’s important to note about the relationship between the two is that at the time of the GM and Chrysler facing bankruptcy, that the federal government took the initiative to engage in something that was called structured bankruptcy, which meant that it could be completed in a relatively short amount of time. So far what I’ve heard in regards to Detroit is that a Chapter 9 proceeding, which, by the way, is unprecedented for this size of municipality, that this could take a very, very long time and could make a lot of lawyers rich.
Now, what needs to be done in the city of Detroit is something that autoworkers have been advocating for quite a while, and that is a reopening of these factories that have closed and to implementing new green technologies here in the city of Detroit to give it some kind of a future. And Obama recently made major policy speeches about having to address climate crisis. So it would seem that the federal government could sort of address two issues simultaneously, bringing the city back with employment and addressing impending climate change through developing a green technology. And Detroit could be a new green center. Obviously, that wouldn’t be done overnight, but it seemed to me that without such a plan, the people of the city of Detroit will not benefit and the people of the planet are not going to benefit.
Noor: And, Frank, we just got some breaking news that the Michigan strategic fund has decided to issue $450 million in bonds for a new stadium for the Detroit Red Wings, 44 percent of which will be financed publicly. Do you think this decision is emblematic of the development model that led Detroit on this path for years, if you can give us a brief comment?
Hammer: Well, you know, I mean, I think that Detroit built a new baseball stadium, it built a new football stadium, and lo and behold, here we are a few years later and Detroit is still going into bankruptcy. So apparently building stadiums doesn’t quite do the trick. And I think that a manufacturing model, a resurrection of manufacturing with green technology would be a much more permanent and sustainable solution.
Noor: So, Frank, are these bankruptcy proceedings being viewed as an opportunity to privatize public assets in Detroit?
Hammer: Most definitely. And I think that what’s important for people to understand is that the way the governor’s promoting this is to say that, oh, we’re going to do this bankruptcy so that we can improve city services. And I have to tell you as a union member, as a UAW retiree, that this sounds a lot like the way the governor saw the right-to-work. It was on the basis of giving workers choice and creating jobs. Well, the right-to-work had nothing to do with their explanations, and the bankruptcy in Detroit has nothing to do with improving city services.
What it does have something to do with is a privatization of the city’s assets. And if you’re not convinced of that, I would recommend that our viewers go and see the website of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is a right-wing Tea Party institution that has been promoting privatization for the city for years. And now that we’re having the bankruptcy possibility, they see this as an opportunity to implement what has been their program for a long time. So they have a solution looking for a crisis. They don’t have a crisis [incompr.] they’re looking for a solution.
Noor: Frank hammer, thank you so much for joining us.
Hammer: Thank you, Jaisal.
Noor: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.