GM tells city: Take this water and shove it!
FLINT, MI — Recently, General Motors stunned the public by declaring it would no longer use city of Flint water because the chlorine levels were too high, causing axle parts to prematurely rust. This caused panic and anger among Flint residents, who are already suffering under exorbitant water rate increases. Under Michigan’s Emergency Manager law, an unelected manager, appointed by Michigan’s Governor, runs the city. This ‘manager’ can sell off public assets, strip away collective bargaining rights, and govern by edict. The law allows the Emergency Manager to take over the powers of local elected officials.
In their zeal to enter into a new pipeline agreement, the city of Flint, under the Emergency Manager, will use Flint river water until a new pipeline is built. Residents complained about skin rashes, foul odors, and discolored water. There have been three water advisories since this summer. No drinking. No Bathing. No brushing your teeth with this contaminated water! One outraged Councilperson accused the Emergency Manager of treating citizens like ‘guinea pigs.’
General Motors went on to negotiate with a neighboring township to install an alternative water line for themselves. They needed the city’s permission to sever Flint’s water service, which the Emergency Manager happily obliged, despite the fact that the city stands to lose $400,000 annually. In contrast, the Mission of Hope, a daytime homeless drop-in center, found themselves unable to pay their water bill and their water was turned off. The Emergency Manager refused to make payment arrangements with them. This center now serves as an emergency water site, distributing water to those in need.
Between 2000-2009, Michigan lost 783,000 jobs. In fact, “Twenty-four percent of all private sector jobs lost during this period were in Michigan” (nearly 1 in 5.) Some called it a slow-moving Katrina that hit the state and no one noticed. Flint, home to giant automaker General Motors was no exception. In 1974,1 in 10 jobs were in auto. Today only 1 in 50 jobs are in auto in Flint. They used to say, when better cars are built, Buick will build them.” Now we say, “When better cars are built, robots will build them.”
But instead of reorganizing to meet our community’s needs in the face of the new realities, our state government chose to attack the growing impoverished masses. Instead of sending the $55 million dollars of revenue-sharing the state owes us, they kept it and declared us a financial disaster area. Quality water, and the lack of access to it, is right now the most devastating expression of our plight.
Every day we are gaining more and more experience and lessons with respect to a system that serves corporate interests while the needs of the growing impoverished masses be damned.