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Rust Belt
Marian Kramer
Water struggle in Highland Park, Michigan.

By Jesu Estrada

Jesu: Marion, please give our readers background on the Detroit water struggle.

Marian Kramer: People came into the office during the late nineties with problems with utilities like lights and gas. We found out some of them had their water shut off. If they are the head of the household, not having water lays the foundation for having children taken away. So a family’s water was off, but parents were keeping it a secret. We found out that between 2001-2, some 40,700 people were without water.

We held direct action campaigns against the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) and finally developed a water affordability plan so no one would have to pay more than $40 and so there would be no water shut offs. We struggled and finally got the Detroit City Council to pass the Water Affordability Plan and to make it a program of the DWSD. We had to expose and call out certain sectors of the Detroit City Council who were not supporting the program. We exposed that the water department was being privatized.

In 2006 we found out that the number of homes without water had gone up to 45,000. Victor Mercado, the head of the DWSD, claimed in 2006 that the Water Affordability Plan could be implemented by July of 2006. They never implemented the program.
They finally implemented a program in September of 2007 but they changed the name to the Detroit Residents Water Assistance Program — which is our program — but they had gutted it. The program would only service 1,100 people. Our plan would help 45,000 or more. Our program laid the foundation for no more shut offs.

Today, we have a huge utility committee to insure that the original water affordability plan goes through. This time we are going to the legislative branch. Now we are getting petitions and going through the process to get the program on the ballot. We are going to blanket Detroit so they understand the plan and come out to vote.

In Detroit we have four new people on the City Council. One campaigned on the water issue, but ended up switching to the administrative side as soon as he was elected. There is outrage about who these city council members represent. They are tied to the corporations. Even the corporations are not paying their water bills. The working class suffers daily from not having water. Water is a human right; it should not be shut off. People should pay according to their income and the infrastructure should be upgraded to create more jobs.

Jesu:  What can our readers do to help your cause?

Marian: The U.S. Social Forum has chosen Detroit for its 2010 event. It would be good if people around the country get on with us so that we can discuss water rights on a national level. Also, send letters to our Gov. J. Granholm for a moratorium on water shutoffs in the state of Michigan. Pressure should also be put on President Obama. Call Michigan Welfare Rights at (313) 964-0618 or (313) 964-2500 or visit the website at

Marian Kramer is co-chair of the National Welfare Rights Union


water struggle
Ann Rall speaks with community people at the kick off of the water
petition campaign in Detroit .
By Ann Rall
People in Detroit are concerned about their water system in two ways. First, the City of Detroit is slowly working to privatize Detroit’s beautiful water and sewerage system, which serves over four million people in SE Michigan and is one of the largest systems in the U.S. Over the past decade, city employees in the DWSD (Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) have found that the work they do to operate and maintain the system has been subcontracted to private firms that offer lower wages and fewer benefits and tend to hire people from outside the city.

City Council is now considering selling a portion of the sewerage system (called the “Macomb Interceptor”) to one of Detroit’s wealthy suburban neighbors, a move which would further encourage the loss of  control of and employment in the water and sewerage system for Detroiters. On January 28, the organization, Call ‘em Out! held a large rally in opposition to the sale of the Macomb Interceptor. At that rally, a number of individuals and representatives of a variety of organizations spoke out against the proposed sale, including the President of the DWSD workers’ union, DWSD employees, and members of Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.

Another problem Detroiters are facing is the ever-increasing rates being charged for water and sewerage services. Every year, thousands of residents are subjected to the pain and humiliation of having the water in their homes shut off. Michigan Welfare Rights has been working for years to get the city to implement a Water Affordability Plan, in which residents bills would be limited to a small percentage of their income, and the city would create a fund to help people pay their back bills. Although Detroit City Council approved a version of the Water Affordability Plan in 2006, the Water and Sewerage Department has refused to implement it. In order to require the DWSD to act in the best interests of low-income Detroiters, MWRO is planning a petition campaign to place an initiative on the November ballot. This initiative would require the city to implement the Water Affordability Plan so that low-income, elderly, and disabled residents of Detroit will no longer be faced with huge water and sewerage bills that they can’t possibly pay.
The petition campaign will kick off with a rally on March 7, and will continue for 90 days. MWRO volunteers plan to collect 10,000 signatures by focusing on block clubs, unions, churches, and large community events. MWRO is also working with the Sierra Club to create a film festival that will travel around the city to encourage people to learn about the struggle for clean and affordable water and to get involved in the petition campaign.

If all goes well, MWRO will submit its petitions to the Detroit Department of Elections in early June, and the ballot initiative calling for affordable water in the city will be placed on the ballot for the general election on November 3, 2009. MWRO will spend the summer and fall educating voters on the importance of voting “YES” on the initiative.


This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551,
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