With 1.3 million workers holding pension plans that are heading toward insolvency and millions more dependent on Social Security payments you can’t live on, there is a pressing need for labor to lead a fight for government-guaranteed pensions at union scale. The Socialist Workers Party says pensions shouldn’t be tied to the bosses’ profits or the health of any capitalist industry, but cover all workers and farmers.
For the employing class it’s a problem that workers live long after we’re deemed fit enough to sell our labor power. Alongside their drive to hold down wages and intensify work, the bosses seek ways to shift the cost of looking after the young, sick or elderly onto workers and our families. They oppose the government picking up the tab, since that means taxes on their profits.
Social Security dwindles as costs for things workers need rise. But working people’s labor produces all the wealth, far more than enough to provide child care, education, health care, housing and retirement for all.
Under capitalism human potential is wasted. The capacities of millions of workers to do something useful — including those who are retired or those the rulers classify as “discouraged workers” — are disregarded. The fact that they use up and then discard millions of workers is an indictment of the immoral class values that underlie their rule, underscoring the need for the working class to overthrow and replace them with our own government.
For decades the course of the union bureaucracy has been to blunt “the fighting potential of the unions,” Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, explains in The Changing Face of U.S. Politics; Working-Class Politics and the Trade Unions. “Good times made it possible for workers to win modest but real wage increases and ‘fringe benefits’ without increasing conflicts with employers.” The officials, he says “ignored the needs of unorganized workers … as well as the political fight for health care and other social programs for the entire working class.”
It will take a powerful working-class-led social struggle to win government-funded pensions that cover our needs and are available for all. Such a battle can help forge the class solidarity and unity working people need and undercut the dog-eat-dog competition fostered by the capitalist system, which pits young against old, as it pits native born against foreign born.