April 21, 2011- Michigan’s House first raised some eyebrows last month when it passed the “Emergency Financial Manager” bill, which states that in the case of an economic crisis, the governor has the authority to authorize “emergency managers” to reject, modify or terminate the terms of any existing contracts or collective bargaining agreements, and dissolve local governing bodies of schools and cities.
Naturally, unions and pro-democratic activists were up in arms when the “financial martial law bill,” as some called it, passed. Thousands turned out to protest what is widely viewed as an authoritarian power grab by Governor Snyder. But up until very recently, the effect of such a bill was largely speculative. The scope of Snyder’s new power couldn’t be fully understood until he decided to flex his muscle in an impoverished former industrial town called Benton Harbor.
The Michigan town is very much in economic crisis—as is, one could argue, most of the country. Crises are wonderful opportunities for the political and financial elites who are always searching for convenient excuses to exploit already chaotic situations for their own personal gains and ideologies. Author Naomi Klein dubbed this the “shock doctrine.”
First, one of Snyder’s state-appointed Emergency Managers, Robert Bobb, issued a layoff notice to all of Detroit’s 5,466 public school teachers. Soon after, another EM, Joe Harris, used his expanded powers granted by the new law to issue an order banning the city commission from taking any action without his written permission. Now, while it is unlikely that all of Detroit’s teachers will be fired, what is clear is that the EMs intend to exercise the maximum amount of authority granted to them under this new law.
“I fully intend to use the authority that was granted under Public Act 4,” Bobb said.