Work till you drop: Wall Street wants to steal your retirement

Since Social Security was established on August 14, 1935, capitalist opponents have said it would go broke. Yet, as limited as it is, Social Security has been the greatest factor in reducing extreme poverty in the United States. 

Gone were the days of the poor house where seniors, unable to work, would be sent to eke out a miserable existence. Before Social Security, the livelihood of older folk was viewed as an individual burden of their children, if they had any. 

The socialist activist and writer Elizabeth Ross described how liberating Social Security and union pensions were for the working class in “Welfare: Why Workers Need It, How Billionaires Get It.” Social Security benefited not only seniors but also family members who had blamed themselves for their parents’ poverty. The living conditions of the elderly were now, properly so, considered a responsibility of the entire society.

That’s why big capitalists despise Social Security. The late U.S. senator and 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater claimed that the program was turning seniors “into a dependent animal creature.” 

Wall Street lusts after the $3 trillion in Social Security trust funds. Banksters want Social Security privatized so they can rip it off.

President George Bush tried to pull off this heist in 2005, but it couldn’t get off the runway. That was the same year Bush let Black and poor people drown and starve in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. 

His first treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, had earlier told the Financial Times in 2001 that “able-bodied” people should arrange their own retirement. That was easy for O’Neill, the millionaire former CEO of Alcoa, to say.

The late Bernie Madoff stole $64 billion from his clients’ savings. Abolish Social Security, and an army of Madoffs will rob from millions.

Florida Senator Rick Scott wants Congress to be able to scuttle Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs every five years. They could only be saved by a majority vote in both houses of congress to renew them. 

Stealing wages and golden years

All pensions, including Social Security and Railroad Retirement, are deferred wages. They’re part of the surplus value produced by the entire working class, both employed and unemployed.

Commonly called profits or interest, surplus value is the difference between what the multinational working class produces and what it gets paid in wages and benefits. Capitalists are always trying to steal more and more from us.

Look how they’ve chiseled the federal minimum wage. Largely because of the efforts of Harlem congressperson Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the minimum wage was raised to $1.60 per hour on Feb. 1, 1968. 

Fifty-five years later, because of inflation, that’s worth $14.07 in February 2023. But the minimum wage has been frozen at $7.25 per hour since July 24, 2009.

So the poorest workers have seen their wages cut in half. That’s what the wealthy and powerful are seeking to do with our retirement. 

They want us to work until we die. After President Reagan broke the PATCO air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981, his administration set up a commission to “reform” Social Security.

The only “reform” was hiking the standard retirement age to 67. To the disgrace of the labor movement, then AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland signed off on this crime.

Sixty-seven isn’t good enough for capitalists. So in 2011, the Economist magazine ― a mouthpiece of the U.S.-British financial aristocracy ― demanded the retirement age be raised to 70. 

The late American International Group CEO Robert Benmosche wanted the retirement age jacked up to 80. That was the insurance giant AIG’s thank you after it got $182 billion in bail-out money.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley wants to raise the retirement age for those who are now in their 20s.

Forcing seniors to retire later means taking jobs from young people. That’s robbing from both the elderly and their grandchildren.

It’s already projected that by 2026 more than one-tenth of people over 75 will still be working. In the meantime, capitalists are trying to bring back child labor

Karl Marx, who discovered surplus value, wrote that it has two aspects: relative surplus value and absolute surplus value. Speeding up an assembly line or forcing a janitor to clean more bathrooms are examples of increasing relative surplus value. 

Forcing an employee to work longer hours for the same pay is an example of capitalists stealing more absolute surplus value. So is forcing people to work longer before they can retire.

Vive la France!

One of the “glories” of the Protestant Reformation in Europe was eliminating all the holidays. At the Sparrows Point steel mill outside Baltimore ― now the site of an Amazon warehouse ― the only holidays in 1900 were the Fourth of July and Christmas.

Combined with the 12-hour work days in the mill, that’s absolute surplus value to the max. Accumulating profits depended on working people to the bone. 

France is now the biggest battlefield in the struggle to stop the stealing of our retirement years. French President Emmanuel Macron thinks he has pushed through an increase in the retirement age.

Using a completely anti-democratic feature in France’s 1958 constitution, the bill was enacted without even a vote in the country’s National Assembly. According to public opinion polls, at least two-thirds of people in France oppose the cutback measure. 

People are revolting against Macron in dozens of French cities. The French working class is fighting for all of us. Cops are using their batons, tear gas and water cannons against protesters.

This brutality is typical for French capitalists. In 1871, their army crushed the Paris Commune ― the first working-class government in history ― slaughtering tens of thousands of people.  

On Oct. 17, 1961, French police murdered hundreds of Algerians in Paris who were demonstrating for independence. Cops threw the bodies into the Seine River. 

Behind Macron is world capitalism. The Washington Post, owned by Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos, declared “Mr. Macron is right.” 

How many Amazon workers, whose labor is responsible for Bezos’ $123 billion fortune, will even be able to retire?

Capitalism can’t tolerate longer lives

The Industrial Revolution ― responsible for machine production, space flights, and the internet ― is around 250 years old. Its most outstanding achievements are greater life expectancy and big drops in both infant and maternal mortality.

Even the science fiction writer Jules Verne didn’t foresee heart transplants or CAT scans. Neither did Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of modern communism, although they would have welcomed them.

These dramatic medical triumphs make discrimination in health care all the more heartbreaking. For example, Black infants in Wisconsin are nearly three times as likely to die as white babies.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “Of all forms of discrimination and inequalities, injustice in health is the most shocking and inhuman.”

The latest capitalist contradiction is longer life expectancy. The profit system can’t tolerate longer lives. That’s why capitalists are forcing up the retirement age.

General Electric had to set aside $14.5 billion to cover losses in its long-term care insurance business because people were living too damn long. 

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel ― whose brother, former Chicago Mayor Rahm  Emanuel covered up the police murder of Black teenager Laquan McDonald ― frequently pops up on TV. The reason is that he claims he will refuse medical treatment after he reaches 75.

That’s your choice doctor, but please don’t force it on the rest of us. That’s not meant to disrespect people who choose to forego chemotherapy or some other treatment. 

That Washington Post editorial supporting Macron finds it troublesome that the number of folks older than 65 or older is expected to double by 2050. 

So what’s wrong with that? We think that’s great!

Socialist Cuba is proud of its 2,000 seniors who are over 100 years old. Life expectancy in the socialist People’s Republic of China has more than doubled since 1949.

In the socialist Soviet Union, retirement ages were 60 for men and 55 for women.

It’s inevitable that there will be a push to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in the congressional negotiations over the debt limit. Just as inevitable is the current war drive against China and the Russian Federation.

The labor and people’s movements need to demand that the retirement age be lowered. It’s shameful that millions of people above 65 and below can’t afford prescribed medications

We must demand a minimum Social Security benefit of at least $3,000 monthly. We’ve earned it. The billionaires can pay for it.

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