Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Low wages, bankrupt cities, it's all the fault of greedy seniors.

Source, Wall Street Journal
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I am a retired public sector worker. I am very fortunate, I had a good job, a union job and I have a decent retirement that offers me a certain amount of security. I can go on vacation without taking out a second mortgage on my home.

I retired in my mid-fifties. The young people (and not so young) today are not so fortunate as the retirement age is climbing and even retired workers are forced to work either for benefits or to pay the rent.  The crisis of capitalism, the precious so-called free market, has driven wages and living standards to unprecedented levels in the most powerful and advanced economy in history.  This has meant that the gap between older workers who traditionally earn less than the majority of the working class population has narrowed considerably. Many retired workers now earn more in retirement than young workers do on the job.

The US autoworkers, a section of the US working class that was once the benchmark of entry in to the US middle class, has had their wages cut and benefits reduced by the auto bosses with the assistance of the leadership of the UAW all in the interests of competitiveness . So now, the serious offensive against the public sector, the last bastion of unionism in the US has intensified.

Pensions of public sector workers like myself are being blamed for this crisis of capitalism. The mass media, wholly owned and controlled by the ruling class, the possessing class or the 1%, whatever we wish to call it, is determined to take back all the gains the working class in the advanced capitalist economies has made over the last centuries. The capitalist offensive on public services is necessary because public sector workers and the services we provide are bankrupting the country. Our pensions in particular are singled out. It is not Iraq, not Afghanistan, not financial speculation and corruption, not the building of 250 bases around the world and predatory corporate wars, not multi-million dollar salaries, but a section of the working class, a retired section, that are destroying the American way of life. We join the poorest among us as the reason for their austerity agenda. We are too expensive and it is our fault other workers living standards are declining. Talk about divide and conquer.

Census data reveals that “Seniors in the US have recently enjoyed healthier income gains than their younger counterparts…” the Wall Street Journal reports.  This makes sense given the successful wars waged against workers over the last 40 years. The average person 65 or older in the US now earns 77% of the income of the average “citizen”, up from 69% in 2008 the Journal adds. As Rahm Emanuel said, a good crisis should never go to waste. The same has occurred in Europe which is no surprise given the attacks on workers there.

Because older workers tend to be more organized and are more likely to vote, they have ensured some respite from the onslaught. The other factor is that the ruling class is a numerically weak class. It has to rest on some section of society, in a so-called democracy, it has to rely on one section or another to place it at the helm of governance.

But things cannot continue. With wages so low who will buy the goods? Consumer spending is traditionally around 66% to 70% of economic activity. Beyond this, there is the threat of social upheaval and instability caused by poverty and insecurity.  The ruling class is turning its attention to the senior population using its media to blame them for the crisis younger people are facing. The old divide and rule once again.   “Younger workers are grappling with flat or falling pay, decreased job security and less-affordable housing, sapping the spending power that helps fuel the economy….”, the Wall Street Journal writes,  “….as the elderly population increases, younger workers also face a rising bill for the extra tax dollars needed to fulfill past governments’ promises to retirees.”
Public sector pensions, are bankrupting America? I think not.

So the burden of our retirement benefits is placed on the shoulders of a younger workforce already savaged by the market.  What a greedy bunch we are. All defined benefit union fought for pensions are to under attack. The language used is important: “Some economists say the working population is being hit as governments coddle retirees.”, the Journal writes. Yes we are coddled apparently. Many of us, not this writer, were coddled in Vietnam and Korea and in the mines of the West Virginia and the factories of the Detroit and other coddling communities. Liz Emerson a co-founder of a London based think tank studying intergenerational issues tells the WSJ that the “political clout” of older workers “…has damaged the interests of the young.”

The inference is that the political clout of the seniors must be undermined. The language used by the mass media is thoughtfully chosen. Immigrants are to blame, unions are to blame, people on welfare are to blame and so on. The trade union hierarchy has no response to the ideological warfare against workers by the ruling class. Not just the physical war, the wage cuts, savaging of living standards crushing of strikes, that they actually support in the interests of competitiveness, but the media war that lays the groundwork for it, that influences mass consciousness so that when workers resist they are seen as greedy and selfish.

I am not ashamed of my pension. I want every worker to have a pension they can live on. This is what we must fight for, a lower retirement age, pensions we can live on and for these to expanded to all workers regardless of type of work or union affiliation. Every worker should be able to retire after 25 years of work if they wish.  Society has the money. This tactic of blaming one section of the working class for the misfortunes of another, for the attacks on other sections by the 1% in defense of their profits is as old as the hills and works when there is no organized resistance to it. We are left in that situation with an every man or woman for herself attitude but this is a disaster that leads to a race to the bottom.

When we read about these issues in the big business press the divide and rule tactic jumps right out at us, yet we still fall for it, for a time anyway. As I read this report I was reminded of what Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary said about the working class. He said that the biggest crisis facing the working class was the crisis of leadership.  If this made sense 70 odd years ago it is crystal clear today.  In the US we have struggles popping up everywhere from the battles over the minimum wage, opposition to fracking, gentrification, deportations, police abuse, racism, gender discrimination and the general austerity agenda of the 1%. We have the popularity of the FDR Democrat Sanders and on the right the rise of Trump and amid all this, the heads of organized labor that sit atop an organization of 12 million workers say nothing. It can’t be said they do nothing as they actually help implement the austerity agenda.

In Europe, if ever there was a time for a Europe wide struggle against global capital it has been in the aftermath of the 2007 crash.  In Greece, Tsipras and Syriza, a party of the new left was given the authority in a referendum to reject the austerity packages of global capital yet within 48 hours Tsipras capitulated and accepted it. There have been massive protests in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and throughout Europe but no attempt to build a Europe wide working class offensive against capital. Bangladesh, China, South East Asia, Latin America and Africa have all seen huge movements of workers, peasants and indigenous communities against global capitalism. The global working class is here, its leadership is not.

The massive influx of refugees fleeing US and western foreign policy in the Middle East, tragedy that it is, also offers a chance to build the international working class movement that is necessary if we are to drive back the capitalist offensive that will, if not stopped, lead to an environmental catastrophe and the end to life as we know it on this planet.

A crisis of leadership indeed.

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