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Major ArtPrize sponsors host Conference in Grand Rapids: West Michigan Policy Forum wants to end public sector employee pensions in Michigan

September 27, 2016


Every two years, the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) hosts a major conference to articulate the goals of the most powerful members of the local capitalist class. I use the term capitalist class, because that is who makes up the WMPF and because their stated  goal is to engage in class warfare, i.e., implement policies at the state level that will negatively impact working class families and benefit the business class.

In pervious conferences, they made cutting the state business taxes a goal, as well as making Michigan a Right to Work state. Both of those goals have been accomplished.

The policy goal of this year’s conference was to push further for even more draconian austerity measures at the state level, with particular emphasis on dismantling pensions for public sector workers.

In the first morning session of the West Michigan Policy Forum conference yesterday, David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United Sates and head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, presented a study recently conducted by the multinational corporation PricewaterhouseCoopers. The study looked at seven municipalities in Michigan with the basic conclusion that public sector pensions are what is destroying municipal budgets. In fact, Walker, author of the book Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility, referred to public sector pensions as a “liability” for cities.

The undermining of public sector employee pensions is not a new thing in Michigan. Governor Snyder has made it part of his larger Neoliberal agenda to do away with public sector pensions and other benefits. It has been part of Snyder’s plan to offer revenue sharing to municipalities only if they met certain requirements, one of them being the attack on public sector employee benefits.  The bus driver’s union in Grand Rapids has been fighting this very issue for nearly two years. 

After the presentation by David Walker, based on the PricewaterhouseCoopers study, there was a panel discussion with four of the five panelists being unabashedly in favor of more austerity measures being adopted by municipalities. Leading the charge for cities adopting more austerity measures was John Kennedy, President and CEO of Autocam Medical. Kennedy has been with the West Michigan Policy Forum since its inception and a major player in the local capitalist class.screen-shot-2013-10-24-at-6-18-43-am

Another cheerleader for the elimination of public sector employee pensions was the City Manager of Port Huron, James Freed. Freed believes that the function of governments is to promote free markets and free enterprise, which will lead to “free people.” This whole theme was reinforced in the afternoon when Governor Snyder himself address the West Michigan members of the capitalist class.

The keynote speaker for this gathering was Star Parker, President of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education (CURE). The theme of her talk was, “Market-Based Policies that are Helping Win the Fight Against Poverty.” Star Parker was the perfect fit for this conference, since she not only believes in the invisible hand of the market, she is the perfect person to deliver such a message, since she is an African American woman.

The Center for Urban Renewal and Education mission is to, “Address issues of race and poverty from a Christian conservative perspective.” Their national advisory board is made up of people from the Heritage Foundation the Family Research Council, the Liberty Cousel and the Ashcroft Group. 

The Agenda of CURE are the following:

• Pro-Life

• Traditional Family

• Capitalism

• Ownership Rights

• School Choice

• Personal Retirement Accounts

• Market-based Healthcare

• Charity Choice

Star Parker is a regular on far right radio talk shows, like the Rush Limbaugh show, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. She once said that marriage equality contributes to the failing of public education.  CURE is also a pro-Zionist organization that condemns the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) campaign.


However, the main reason why Star Parker addressed the capitalist class of Grand Rapids yesterday, was because of her zealous devotion to market-based solutions to poverty, to education and to government fiscal responsibility.

Before the end of the day, the audience also got to hear from two of the second generation members of the DeVos family, Dick and Doug, but they also heard from liberal capitalists like Fred Keller (Cascade Engineering) and Faye Richardson-Green with Richardson-Green Consulting LLC.

What those who claim to believe in collective liberation and social justice should take from this gathering of the local capitalist class is, they are well organized and tend to get the policies they want at the state level. It would be a mistake to simply ignore them or dismiss them as part of the “rightwing.” The local capitalist class is embedded in so much of what takes place in West Michigan, which is exactly why this area has the largest wealthy gap in the entire state

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