Consciousness where I live and Russia
JOEFREEMEN at aol.com
JOEFREEMEN at aol.com
Sun Dec 16 11:29:21 MST 2001
Highland Park Michigan is a 2.3 square mile proletarian suburb located in
roughly the center of the city of Detroit. Once the wealthiest community in
America, this home of Henry Ford's first assembly line factory, former
headquarters of Chrysler Corp. and Excello Corp. (the folks who make the
machines that make machine and cutting machine tools) faces financial ruin, a
state takeover and collapse as a city structure. Eighty-percent of all
streets have gutted and abandoned houses, with the dope boys and girls
partaking in a brisk business.
The fire department collapsed years ago. Public officials cannot draw
salaries; the Mayor is reputed to have a long history of drug abuse; city
services have been shut down as of December 14 and a state auditor is
attempting to make sense of the city finances. This working class - or rather
proletarian enclave has a home ownership rate of roughly 65% and closed its
hospital over fifteen years ago with the Community College following later.
During the past 20 years the population has fallen from 37,000 to 16,000
residents, representing all layers of the working class from the highest paid
autoworkers to the marginally employed and chronically unemployed. Then there
is the water bill.
My wife and I are homeowners of a duplex with her mother and our eldest
daughter and her two children living on the other side of the building. Three
weeks ago mother - age 78, received a water bill for $40,992.64 (that's
forty-thousand dollars folks) for a three month period. The bill has sense
been adjusted to $216.62 for a period of six months - from April 24, 2001, to
November 10, 2001. For the past two years the citizens of our city have
protested in numerous City Council meeting the outrageous water bills and
lack of city services to no avail. The lack of any meaning civic
organizations, not to mention a lack of class-consciousness or rudimentary
organizations of the marginally and chronically unemployed, prevents any
concerted actions on the part of any section of the citizens.
When mother first received the forty-thousand dollar water bill attempts
where made to contact anyone in the city government to straighten the matter
out. The first calls to the water department fell on deaf ears and the
ignorance of bureaucracy. "Excuse me but we have a water bill for
forty-thousand and need someone to read the water meter and straighten
matters out." Reply: "All I can tell you is that if your bill is not paid
there will be a lean against your property, and if it is not paid you will
lose the property." I says, "Wait a minute there has been a mistake and it
needs to be straightened out." Reply: "that's not my department call such and
"Excuse me Mr. Such and such, I have a real problem with my latest water
bill." Abrupt interruption - "yea we all have problems, the city probably
won't pay me this week." I says, "Yes Sir, I know things are bad for the city
employees, but I can't pay a forth thousand dollar water bill." Reply: "all I
can tell you is to pay what's on the bill or face shutoff." I says, "Wait a
minute man, all that is needed is a meter-man to do a reading of the outside
meter and double check it against the inside meter. I will do the reading
myself and send in pictures, but I need some fucking help with this
$40,000.000 - mutherfucking water bill." "Click."
Now I am trying to figure out the next move. I think about going to the local
Communist Party club but none exist. Then I figure that I would contact a
trade union association but they are not organized on the basis of geography,
but trade and industry, and then again none of the unions have "water bill
departments." Then I figured that I would call the police department and just
tell them that it's getting ready to get real fucked up cause I can't paid
forty-thousand but the only way to get police service in Highland Park is to
say that 20 Arabs are outside with nuclear bombs and then they still put you
on hold and transfer the call to the Detroit police. So we called the Local
News station and the problem solvers.
The next day the local television station is outside and come inside to do an
interview of mother. Mother is sitting in her wheel chair and sister-in-law
is doing the talking. Anyway the program is aired about 3 days later and the
city structure begins to move. On December 10, we received a letter
explaining that an adjustment had been made to the bill. Now I am happy and
figure I would go to the water department and once again challenged the water
bill for my side of the house, which run about $300.00 (three-hundred) every
I go to the water department and folks know about the 40 thousand dollar bill
and the television report. "Excuse me but my water bill is still to high and
someone needs to read my meter. I don't want to pay the bill right now
because I won't be able to get my money back for being overcharged for 2
years. Can I get a refund?" Reply: "The only way to get a refund is to sell
your home. Then a ready is made of your meters and compared with your charges
for the past several years and it a refund is worth coming, it is sent to you
after the closing of the sell of your home."
"Uh . . . wait a minute baby, I am not trying to sell my home, I want to just
get my water bill straight, which is due December 18."
"Sir, the city is closing down in three days."
"I beg your pardon?"
"The city is closing down December 14, and we supposed to come back to work
January 6th. The mutherfuckers supposed to pay us, but we are already just
working four days a week and probably won't have a job when we come back."
Right then and there I called on years of Marxist training, scientific
methodology, factors of chance in the movement of probability and decided to
pay that damn water bill on the spot. "Baby here is my current bill, but it
is to high, but I am paying it now because last month the shutoff man tried
to shut the water off on my side."
"I remember you from last month."
Now last month my nephew banged on the front door and when I ran outside he
was telling the shutoff man to "get the fuck off of this property." I asked,
"What's is the problem, I paid the bill," and ran inside and got the payment
slip." The shutoff man says, "Look, I ain't looking for no problem; fuck you
and the water company." I thrust the paid bill into his hand and he says,
"What the fuck you giving me that for, you better go to the water department
and get your name taken off of the shutoff list." When I went to the water
department last month to get my name off of the shutoff list, I was told that
because I paid my 90 day bill after 2:00 on the due date, the computer had
already put my name on the shut off list. I thanked the women and went home
to find out that 4 other people on the block had their water cut off. To
I paid the three hundred dollar water bill and went into the outer corridor
to talk with the secretary who directs people to the proper window. He and I
talk about the outrageous water bills and out of the blue he says, "I need
some money and another job." Right then a police officer walks up and says,
"But what did she do? Was she protesting loud?" I look at the secretary and
thinking, "damn, the police asking about a protest?"
"She wasn't loud but had a picket sign. I think she showed up about 1:00
yesterday and was extremely mad." The police says, "I don't blame her but I
hoping she didn't cause a sense because it don't look good." I jump into the
conversation and state calmly, "Sometime people have to protest to get some
action." By know it's about six or seven people gathering around, all who are
extremely angry about the water bills and high property taxes. The police
officer states, "man I tried to tell her to just call the controller and all
that protesting wouldn't solve the problem, but your know how hard it is to
tell your wife anything." I says, "Your wife and everyone started laughing."
"Yea, she had a tooth ache and went to the dentist. Before she went I called
the city to make sure we still had our dental coverage because both of us
work for the city. I was told all our benefits are in tact. When she got to
the dentist office she was told our coverage had been canceled three months
ago, so yesterday she made up a big sign and was protesting. If I protest I
get fired and we probably won't get paid next month anyway so why should I
get fired before Christmas?"
At that point everyone asked when was the next City Council meeting? The
secretary stated Monday, December 17 at 7:00. Someone asked if he was sure of
the time. He called to confirm the time and was told the meeting was canceled
because the city was shutting down on the 14th. I suggested we collect each
other phone numbers and e-mail address and promised to contact everyone in
the New Year. At that point the conversation took a turn because the local
judge for our city and Hamtramck - the Polish enclave adjacent to Highland
Park, politicized the conversation with voting rights, the responsibility of
federal authority, public officials and the voting public. But that's a story
Now I left the water department with 6 to 10 names thinking, "where in the
fuck is the communist when you really need some help?" Now there is a very
small voice that operates within my mind, which I choose to call the "ghost
of Stalin" because of its ruthless clarity and unwavering assertion. The
voice said, "You're it mutherfucker."
The working class is extremely backwards in its class consciousness, that is
the understanding of property relations (not home ownership but ownership of
the factors of life/culture reproduction) and why classes adopt politics to
represent it existence and daily needs in society. Further, the working class
is extremely stratified with the lowest strata facing immediately destitution
and lacking any formal organizations. I was able to pay the three-hundred
dollar water bill, but an entire layer of society cannot foot the bill of
capital. I refer to this strata proper as proletarian, although industrial
workers are proletarian. Even a Labor Party would provide a forum for the
growth of class politics in North America.
Then I thought about this question of bureaucracy in the former Soviet Union
and said damn. I thought about Argentina and all the needed discussions on
the Marxline. All the discussions are good, except perhaps the guy whose
pissed off about Darwin. The Russian workers lack a concrete program and
organizational forms. Consciousness or conscious existence - in the sense of
Marx, is the fundamental weakness of the world proletariat.
Where I live at the police want to go on strike. Time to get to work.
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