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I’ve been raving about this book for months, but it has a giant hole in it. There’s no treatment of what’s happening to the right to retire!

emmettseniorcrowd

Senior Day at the Texas Capitol

I’ll put some of my notes about his fine book at the end. In a nutshell it explains that inequality went wild once the American workers movement — especially the unions — allowed themselves to be isolated and neutralized. Around 1980 — after the unions had chased away all the communists and all the international friends and all the progressive movement and, finally, each other — the corporations and their government lackeys were able to privatize, deregulate, un-tax themselves, attack progressive organizations and subvert democracy at will. They’re still doing it even though the weakened unions started wising up in 1995.

Conquerors attack their enemies at their weakest point. That means that the general attack against all working Americans tended to focus on the most vulnerable. In our case, the most vulnerable are the children and the seniors. The book talks a little about the corporate onslaught against public schools, but it doesn’t mention seniors at all!

Fight for the Right to Retire

The right to retire was put on firm footing in America with the passing of the Social Security Act in 1935. Medicare/Medicaid was added before 1980 Reaganomics became policy. In the 1960s, Americans could look forward to resting their “golden years” on a three-legged stool of personal savings, pensions, and Social Security. Now in 2016, the first two have been decimated and Social Security is under multiple threats every time Congress is in session.

In 2002, the new and progressive AFL-CIO leadership put together the Alliance for Retired Americans. It consists of a lobbying office in Washington DC and far-flung supporters here and there around the nation. We usually meet in union halls and most of our initial supporters are union retirees, but we reach out to all seniors and, for that matter, anybody and everybody who wants to save the right to retire in America before it’s too late!

In 2006, we faced a major challenge because President Bush made it his top priority to privatize Social Security. He came close, but we stopped him. Since 1980, there have been a succession of crazy proposals to do this and do that with retiree benefits. All of them are obscured in language, but in the final analysis they all mean cuts for seniors.

Around 1986, it became possible for corporations to disregard their responsibility for pensions in bankruptcy proceedings. In 2015 Congress decided that trustees of multi-employer pensions could solve their budget problems by cutting retiree benefits. The budget for administering Social Security has been cut so severely that many offices had to be shut down and many counselors laid off. Corporations and anti-worker politicians come up with some new attack every few weeks.

Here in Dallas, voters will find on their November 8 ballot a proposal to slash the pensions of City employees. The Dallas newspaper already endorsed it as sound policy!

It’s fight or die!

–Gene Lantz

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Some notes from the book:

Leopold, Les, “Runaway Inequality. An Activist’s Guide to Economic Justice.” Foreword by Chris Shelton, President of CWA. Labor Institute Press, 817 Broadway, NY NY 10003, 2015

I think I put 3 references to this book on genelantz.org. I found it very exciting that CWA was holding classes and giving away copies of a book on more-or-less radical economics.

pg2 (shelton) “We’ll see data showing that elected officials rarely act on the agenda most Americans support.”

pg4: “Most of all, the media turns a blind eye to the fact that we live in a capitalist system.”

pg4: “…there is, in fact, a fundamental conflict between employees and owners, between the rich and the rest of us.”

pg5 “Economic elites will only give up power and wealth when they’re forced to do so by a powerful social movement.”

pg29-30 (Leopold) list of reasons for economic crisis of late 1970s, including competition from industrialized countries.

pg194 “…American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.”

pg204 “This policy of military Keynesianism led to an unofficial partnership between the government, large corporations and labor unions. These groups worked together (more or less) to prosecute the Cold War.”

pg 288 “…Wealth inequality and unionization levels are intertwined.”

pg288: List of “what happened to unions” begins, “The decline of unionism started when unions started cooperating with the government ‘anti-red’ efforts during the McCarthy era.”

The book doesn’t actually generalize, but it does show that the entire process of rising  inequality was a result of union isolation —  first from the world movement, then from the domestic progressive movements here at home (anti-war, civil rights, etc) and finally, with the merger of the AFL and the CIO, from one another. “Solidarity” was still a good song, but it wasn’t really practiced 1947-1995 in the American union movement.

pg 289: “…Unions and the rest of us are on the losing side of a gigantic class war — a war that we have to recognize, discuss and address if unions are to grow again.”

 

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I sometimes think of politics as a football game where each side pushes for yardage.  The goalpost ahead of us is a decent democratic society. The one behind us is slavery and want. In all of American history, we have struggled for yardage between those goal posts. The little upright yard markers are the court decisions and legislation that show progress or setbacks.

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The 2016 elections will not result in a perfect society. Neither did the 2008 elections, even though, to listen to the complaints, that’s what some voters expected. All things considered, the Obama Administration has been a whole lot better than what might have happened in 2008, and what will happen after 2016 can be a whole lot better than the Republican alternative.

Lesser evil?

That’s not “Lesser Evil” politics. It’s just an honest assessment of where we are and what the possibilities are in the current election.

The Outlook for Seniors is Promising

Nowadays, I mostly work with the retiree movement. Over the years, my speeches have been long, whiney complaints about all the attacks against the right to retire. There was a lot to whine about. Since Reagan was elected, most pension plans have been lost. Employer-sponsored health care plans have disappeared or been shamefully altered to the advantage of management. Social Security, so far, has not suffered a fatal blow, although several have been fired at it, but it’s been hit hard around the edges. The budget for administering Social Security has been cut so severely that there are empty buildings all over the nation where seniors used to be able to get help, but are gathering dust now. The Republicans in the House of Representatives just voted to cut another $1.2 billion!

Thanks mostly to the Bernie campaign, things are looking up for retirees in 2016. The Democratic Party platform and presidential nominee are publicly committed, not to “saving” the right to retire, but to extending and improving it!

But Seniors Have to Organize and Fight

Older Americans are going to have to do a whole lot more than hope for the best to make the Democratic Party promises come true. Fortunately, the AFL-CIO has made that possible by creating the Alliance for Retired Americans and a bunch of state affiliates.

Over the month from July 26 to August 25, the Texas affiliate scheduled nine separate actions in 6 different cities. Click here for list. The period includes the anniversaries of Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security.

At the July 26 event, State Rep Chris Turner read the words of ex-president Harry Truman on July 30, 1965, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare/Medicaid amendment:

“No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years. No longer will young families see their own incomes, and their own hopes, eaten away simply because they are carrying out their deep moral obligations to their parents, and to their uncles, and their aunts. And no longer will this Nation refuse the hand of justice to those who have given a lifetime of service and wisdom and labor to the progress of this progressive country.”

That was progress. In 1965, we moved the football and the yard markers in the right direction. We’re moving them now!

–Gene Lantz

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