In San Francisco, members of ILWU Local 91 joined community activists to occupy the home of a union member whose family was evicted after Well Fargo foreclosed on their home. In Detroit, members of the UAW and other unions joined a protest in front of the JP Morgan Chase Detroit headquarters. Protestors delivered a Notice of Default to the bank for its failure to live up to a consent decree it signed last year in which it agreed to stop unjust foreclosures.
By supporting the movement against foreclosures, unions are taking a fundamental value that improved the lives of their members–solidarity– beyond the workplace and extending it into the community, partly out of a commitment to social justice and partly out of the realization that unions can no longer improve members’ lives by confining themselves to narrow on-the-job issues.
Take what’s going on in Detroit. The demonstration at JP Morgan Chase was called to support Alma Counts, an 82 year-old partially paralyzed widow. It was organized by a coalition including People Before Banks, Moratorium Now, Occupy Detroit, Occupy Our Homes, and UAW Local 600.
Ms. Counts and Washington Mutual agreed to a loan modification, which set her monthly payment at $728, which she paid regularly. In 2009, JP Morgan Chase began servicing the loan. According to Vanessa Fluker, Ms. Counts’ attorney, Chase arbitrarily raised her payment to $1,400, which Ms. Counts, who lives on a fixed income, was unable to pay; consequently, the bank foreclosed on her.
“Ms. Counts represents tens of thousands who are in the same predicament,” Fluker said. “You can do everything right. You can fight to keep your home, but it doesn’t matter. . . . This is happening to tens of thousands of people in the city and in the state.”
These foreclosures are killing our communities, said Bernie Ricke, UAW Local 600 president at the Chase demonstration. “They bring down property values, which erodes the tax base and curtails public services.” It’s vicious cycle that eventually leads to blight and strains the budgets of local governments.
That is what is happening in Detroit today. As the tax base has eroded and revenue slowed to a trickle, city debt has grown, and Detroit’s Mayor Bing and Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder are on the verge of agreeing to the appointment of Financial Accountability Board with the authority to impose severe austerity measures and unilaterally void union contracts to reduce worker wages and benefits.
In San Francisco, the ILWU has a long history of fighting for social justice outside of the workplace. On March 16, members of Local 91 joined with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) to re-claim the home of Local 91 member Dexter Cato, who had been evicted by Wells Fargo.
Cato was the victim of what ACCE calls the bank’s “dual tracking program.” Cato, the widowed father of four, worked out a loan modification plan with Wells Fargo and began making payments. Despite the modification and the fact that Cato was making payments, the section of the bank that carries out foreclosures had Cato evicted and put the home up for sale.
According to ACCE, the dual track system has resulted in thousands of foreclosures in the Bay Area. “We are demanding that Dexter Cato and families throughout San Francisco get affordable modifications and that all banks apply a widespread moratorium on all foreclosures,” read a statement issued by ACCE on the occupation of the Cato’s home.
Cato’s house is located in Hunters Point, a largely African-American community in San Francisco. Some of Cato’s neighbors are facing eviction. “They’re foreclosing on my home too,” said a neighbor to the San Francisco Bay View. “It’s happening up and down this street. Wells Fargo and the other banks are terrorizing this community.”
“This neighborhood was built with the sweat and blood of Black people, who came here to work in the Hunters Point Shipyard,” said Mesha Monge-Irizarry to Bay View. “Now their descendants are fighting to save their family homes – to keep from being forced out of their own community by these criminal banks. Power to the hood!”
Meanwhile, members of Local 91 signed up to take shifts at Cato’s home to make sure that the foreclosure sale doesn’t take place. On the first day of the occupation, Local 91 members stood on the front porch and led the crowd chanting, “Nationalize the banks!”