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As U.S. Mayors meet...People's Conference Plans Speakout for Workers and Poor

As the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the city of Madison prepare for the June 14-18 conference, a different kind of organizing is going on in the neigborhoods. In opposition to the exclusionary atmosphere of the Mayors' Conference, a People's Conference will address the needs of the majority of the world's people-the workers and the poor.
As U.S. Mayors Meet...

People's Conference Plans Speakout for Workers and Poor

By Bryan G. Pfeifer

The city of Madison is preparing a regal experience for the over 350 mayors coming to town for the 70th annual United States Conference of Mayors June 14-18.

Led by Madison Mayor Sue Bauman, the city and corporate sponsors will treat the mayors to gala events at conference headquarters, the Monona Terrace, and be taken on tours of the city visiting historical and other sites. Madison is the second smallest city to host the USCM.

The conference, "promises to showcase prominent national speakers, substantive discussion of major issues facing American cities, and fun events for mayors and their families," says Andrew Solomon, USCM press secretary. Traditionally the conference ends with an address by the current U.S. president. Bush Jr. hasn't confirmed he will speak.

Those not invited to the mayors' conference are preparing different kinds of events.

Concerned that the interests of working people are increasingly being sacrificed to serve the agendas of the large corporations and the rich, a coalition of community groups including Milwaukee organizations like Education for the People, faith communities, labor unions, students, youth, and political parties have assembled under the name "Cities for People!" as an alternative to the mayor's conference.

A major impetus of the coalition has been the announcement that there will be no public access and media restrictions to the mayors' conference although a majority of events will be held at taxpayer funded parks and in buildings like the Monona Terrace and the State Capitol.

Bauman added fuel to the fire in April when she said, "It is very interesting trying to develop community support for an event to which the community is not invited."

Considering that the mayors make daily decisions that affect tens of millions, this is a rather alarming admission says journalist Kristian Knutsen, author of a "mayors' conference watch," series for the Independent Media Center-Madison.

Cities for People is united by seven major points of unity which call for government policies that emphasize the needs and empowerment of youth, working and poor people, the unemployed, communities of color, immigrants, the elderly and future generations, principles the coalition says are not addressed by the mayors and their corporate supporters.

A major point will be opposing the "war on terrorism" which coalition organizers say is taking billions from social programs like job creation, housing, health care and low-cost public transportation and giving this money to the Pentagon which currently has over 50 percent of the federal budget at $300 billion.

The coalition will host a free "People's Conference" on June 15, at Madison's Labor Temple featuring music, panels and workshops led by national and local organizers, musicians, and elected officials. On June 16 the coalition and other allied organizations are sponsoring a "Community Parade for Cities" emphasizing the points of unity. Another coalition, the Creative Peoples Resistance, will join these events. Similar events have taken place in previous years in Detroit, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Leading up to the four-day weekend the city, the Madison Police Department (MPD), and Madison's corporate media have led a violence-baiting campaign, among other tactics, to undermine and deflect the legitimate concerns and grievances of protesters say Cities for People organizers. The Wisconsin State Journal, the Isthmus newsweekly and Madison Magazine are mayors' conference sponsors.

The security budget for the conference, originally budgeted at $92,000, has been increased to over $700,000 largely due to a memo from the MPD to Bauman alleging "violent anarchists" plan on disrupting the mayors' conference. Without any evidence of planned protester violence say protesters, the MPD will have soft-perimeters and riot-gear clad Special Events officers surrounding Monona Terrace and the immediate area.

Bauman has said the extra money will come from private sources but Madison City Council members, including President Matt Sloan, say some of the costs will undoubtedly have to come from the city when it can ill afford it due to the state's financial crisis.

These and numerous other issues have set the stage for a sure-to-be memorable and historic weekend in Madison's and the state's history.

History and Background

The U.S. Conference of Mayors was originally organized in 1932 as a response to the Great Depression. It has become the "official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more," of which there are over 1100 today according to its website.

The USCM assumes five primary roles: promoting the development of national urban/suburban policy; strengthening federal-city relationships; ensuring that federal policy meets urban needs; providing mayors with leadership and management tools; and creating a forum in which mayors may share ideas and information.

Each member mayor serves on one or more standing committees that meet twice each year-at a winter meeting in January and the annual conference in June to research, debate, discuss, and draft resolutions on a wide variety of issues from housing assistance to international trade. To this end, the conference regularly lobbies and works closely with Capitol Hill, Congress and the White House. The USCM has an executive committee, standing policy committee and advisory board of which Baumann is a member.

The most influential body within the USCM, the Mayors Business council, has its own steering committee, and allied, council and charter members, the majority of which are Fortune 1000 CEO's and board members. The 16-member steering committee includes individuals from the American Trucking Association, Inc., American Waterworks Company, AT&T, Bechtel, Lehman Brothers, Lockheed Martin IMS, Philip Morris Companies, Inc., Sodexo Marriott Services, U.S. Filter Operating Services, Inc., and 3M.

According to the USCM website, Business Council members who pay annual dues of $10,000, are entitled to a long list of rewards. These include participation and exhibit space in mayor's conference meetings, access to special sessions, participation in the "Public/Private Partnership Award" program, private policy briefings, "invitations to present views," invitation to participation "in the sponsorship and formation of new collaborative projects on priority issues," and a complimentary subscription to the U.S. Mayor newspaper with discounted "advertorial" charges and opportunities for "guest columns or stories."

The Business Council represents "the global elite of private municipal service providers," claims Knutsen.

J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director of the USCM and leading Business Council member, agrees.

In his statement "The U.S. Conference of Mayors and Business Leaders- A New Political Force," available on the USCM website, Cochran claims that "the turnaround of many cities is due in large measure to the bonding that has taken place between our mayors and their local business partners, as well as national and international partners."

Cochran continues, "...the mayors are leaders who see themselves as-and indeed are-the CEO's of government whose job it is to run their cities like a successful business with innovations and cost-cutting measures along with wise investments-they walk every step of the way with their business partners."

A May 2000 report, "U.S. Metro Economies: The Engines of America's Growth," commissioned by the USCM, and referenced by Cochran in his statement, details the vital importance of metro areas to the U.S. and international economy.

Because of industry clusters, universities and "a large geographically concentrated customer base that allows transportation, communications and utilities services to be supplied more efficiently...if they were counted as a single country, the gross product of the ten largest U.S. metropolitan areas ($2,200 billion) would rank third among the world's economies," trailing only the U.S. and Japan, states the report. The fastest growth has been in the business and high-tech sectors.

The report recommends an increase in globalizing and exporting the products and services produced by workers in U.S. cities. In the current fiscal crisis many states find themselves in, critics such as Cities for People organizers contend that increasing globalization by major U.S. cities will result in more attacks on unions, privatization, and a reduction in public services similar to what happens when the International Monetary Fund and World Bank force structural adjustment programs on underdevelopment countries.

Madison conference has major corporate support

At all USCM meetings corporate support is abundant. In Madison private parties, and the majority of the conference, are open only to mayors, corporate sponsors and their guests.

Planned events include the Friday evening "Gala at the Gardens" at Olbrich Gardens sponsored by Fannie Mae and CUNA Mutual Group, the Saturday evening "Moon over Monona" inside the state capitol sponsored by Madison Gas & Electric and American Family Insurance, the Sunday afternoon "Picnic in the Park" in Warner Park sponsored by Daimler Chrysler, the Sunday evening "Beer, Brats & Blues," on the UW-Madison Memorial Union Terrace sponsored by Philip Morris, and Monday's "Madison Sports Spectacular" at the Kohl Center sponsored in part by the Culver's restaurant chain.

The mayors and their families and friends will also be treated to various Madison tours including visiting the home and office of Frank Lloyd Wright, a Wisconsin farm tour with tractor hay rides and cow milking, and a Lake Mendota Cruise.

"In part through sponsorship of these closed soirees, and in part through general sponsorship, a growing number of corporations are opening their pocketbooks in return for access," says Knutsen.

Bauman claims the conference will elevate Madison's image.

"Beyond the positive economic boost from hosting the conference, estimated at more than $1.5 million, is the incalculable benefit of having Madison seen nationally as a city with the capacity to host events of this magnitude. It puts Madison on the map for future conventions. In the convention industry, the prestige of hosting such an event is enormous," says Bauman.

Thus far, for the mayor's conference, Philip Morris and MG&E have each donated at the $75,000 and above level, SBC/Ameritech and Fannie Mae at the $50,000 level and numerous corporations at the $25,000 level including Alliant Energy, DaimlerChrysler, Foley & Lardner and the Wisconsin State Journal/Lee Foundation. Other sponsors include Anchor Bank, Covance, Firstar, Marcus Hotels, Marshall Fields, Rayovac.

A serious crisis brewing

Despite the festive atmosphere planned for June 14-18, the mayors and their banking and corporate friends and allies will be having major discussions about the serious economic, political and social crisis the U.S. currently finds itself in say insiders. The conference agenda released to the public doesn't disclose committee meeting, plenary session, task force, or workshop topics.

The current recession, officially in effect since March 2001, has had a devastating impact on all U.S. cities but most significantly on larger metropolitan areas where multinational and often poorer populations reside.

A few examples of the recession's impact include:

*A Dow Jones study, reported on in the May 3 Wall Street Journal, documented that 1,146 leading U.S. corporations in the first quarter of 2002 found they were collectively in debt for the first time in 10 years. A Dow Jones newswire summed up the study: "If the first quarter is an indication of what we can expect over the rest of the year, the revenue growth will be very weak."

*An April 9 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities stated that "after years of decline, participation in the food stamp program has been increasing in recent months." In Jan. 2002 18.9 million people participated in the federal food stamp program, the largest number since Aug. 1998. Since July 2000, participation has increased by more than two million people. The Center claims that because of the recession individuals and families have lost employment and income resulting in their accessing food stamps.

*With these thousands of new families needing weekly food relief, private U.S. charities have announced a new national Hunger Day for June 5 as part of an emergency effort to shore up depleted soup kitchens and food pantries. "In recent months hunger in America has reached a whole new level," said Robert Fourney, president of Second Harvest, in the Feb. 27 New York Times. Second Harvest is a network of non-profit food banks that provide 80 percent of the food distributed by private charities.

*The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on May 3 the nation's unemployment rate rose to six percent in April-an over two percent increase from Oct. 2000 when the rate was 3.9 percent and the highest level in eight years. Since the late 1990s, largely due to the collapse of the high-tech industries and overproduction, eight to ten million U.S. jobs have disappeared.

The unemployment rate for college graduates-3 percent-is the highest since May 1993 leading analysts to speculate that even those with higher skill levels are finding it difficult to find work. Currently there are over 3 million unemployed in the U.S. Since the Bureau doesn't count part-timers, the underemployed, discouraged workers or first-time lookers, this figure is much higher, especially among the youth, the elderly and people of color, say analysts.

The biggest cuts in April came in construction where 79,000 jobs were lost, the largest drop since 1991. Textile workers, apparel makers, automakers, airlines, hotels and supermarkets have also been hard hit as workers are increasingly unable to purchase the products they produce due to plummeting wages, reduced workweeks and increased temporary and part-time work. In February 2001, Wisconsin's unemployment rate exceeded the national rate for the first time in more than 15 years mostly due to massive layoffs in the manufacturing industries according to the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.

*Besides rising unemployment, the current system "fails to meet the needs of out-of-work" workers, especially low-wage and part-time, due to restrictive eligibility limitations and badly structured eligibility requirements concludes researchers from the Economic Policy Institute, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Employment Law Project in the March 2002 report, "Failing the Unemployed: A State-by-State Examination of Unemployment Insurance Systems."

"In most states, unemployment insurance isn't a true safety net but a series net but a series of gaping holes loosely strung together," said the EPI's Jeffrey Wenger, a co-author of the report, upon its release. "For most people in most states, the help they get from unemployment benefits is not nearly enough to get them through the crisis-and many people are slipping through the holes entirely, with nothing to break their fall."

The People's Conference and past protests

The Cities for People coalition's points of unity are: Quality Education is a Human Right; Reform the Criminal Justice System; Defend Civil Rights Against All Attacks; Fully Fund Public Services & Stop Corporate Privatization; Future Generations Deserve Sustainable Cities; Economic Justice Now; and Government by, for, and of the people, not corporations.

The People's Conference, like similar initiatives in previous years, will discuss a program of what to do to stop police brutality and murders; end racist profiling, disenfranchisement and voting rights abuses; end hate crimes against people of color, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; and win domestic partner benefits.

It will also focus on how to stop plant closings and layoffs; roll back gasoline and utility prices; stop union busting and attacks on undocumented workers; and provide equal, quality education for all without privatization or vouchers.

Other suggestions will include a moratorium on debt payments, a process where cities pay tens of millions to banks in interest on bonds and other debt services. Detroit, one of the leading U.S. cities in this area, pays at least $100 million a year to banks in interest.

Tom Dunn, a Cities for People spokesperson and Progressive Dane organizer, says that as opposed to the secrecy and exclusive nature of the Mayors' conference, ordinary working people will be able to address their concerns in the open atmosphere of the People's Conference.

"Our elected officials should be responsive to the electorate in a democratic society. The conference of mayors is designed to provide access to wealthy corporations who can buy access to our government. Cities for People is providing an alternative to the exclusionary nature of the Conference of Mayors."

For more information see,,, www.resist-the and, or attend the Cities for People coalition meetings at the Progressive Dane conference room, 200 N. Blount St, Madison at 7 p.m. June 6 and 13.


© 2002 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Article may be used in full or in part with full credit given to author.

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