NORTH AMERICA: Special Report on Pensions and Retirees

NORTH AMERICA: Special Report on Pensions and Retirees

From time to time, the Pension and Retired WFTU activists from North America that are concentrated around the publication, Labor Today International, will be reporting on the activities of retiree activists. Our editorial collective includes Joseph Hancock, Abdel Honorio García, and Dr. Frank Goldsmith. Hancock is 66 years of age and will be assuming leading responsibilities in the P y J TUI with the valuable assistance of Frank and Abdel.

Our struggle for expanding Social Security also includes the fight to expand the government Medicare and Medicaid programs. In the middle of the worldwide Capitalism collapse into a depression, when Social Security was enacted, in the 1930’s, after a major class struggle lead by the Communist Party and newly organized class oriented trade unions (of the CIO) in mass production industries. Social Security was never meant to be a full living at retirement age. No health benefits program was enacted. Corporate and Southern racist Democrats rejected any national health program that was proposed. After the end of World War 2 these same CIO unions attempted to expand Social Security income and establish a national health program. The answer from General Electric, General Motors, and Ford was to get their politicians to enforce the Smith anti-communist Act and to pass the anti-communist Taft-Hartley Act. These three corporations were Nazi collaborators all during World War 2.

The employers succeeded in getting the trade union collaborators to help destroy trade union militants. They offered private pension plans to their unions and their own private health insurance benefit. The collaborationist unions agreed.

It wasn’t until the mid-1960’s that massive pressure was mounted by progress in the unions and others to enact:
A. Medical health benefits for retirees, A limited amount of benefits that only pays 80% of costs. The other 20% must be bought from private insurance companies.
B. Medicaid is a health benefits program for those considered poor. It is State and Federal funded and administered.
This is what was conceded to the insurance companies. The USA has NO national health program. The national Social Security program benefits are still extremely low. The Elderly cannot live on that limited income.

Currently, when workers receive COLA in their Social Security benefits, Medicare premiums are also increased correspondingly. Medicare has several parts. Part B covers expenses paid to doctors and part D covers pharmaceuticals. The government does not negotiate drug prices for Medicare patients. When we go to the doctor, there are many times huge co-payments for doctor visits, diagnostic and lab tests, x-rays and so on. The prices of some medicines like insulin are so expensive that elderly people must choose between medicines and food. The elderly skip meals and dosages of medicine to make their money last for the entire month.

The fightback is anchored on defending Social Security and pensions. Last year the Butch Lewis Act was passed that allows the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to bail out pensions that are “at risk.”

Why are these pension funds “at risk”? There have been many layoffs in key industries. Hours are reduced from 40 hours to 20 hours per week. In the industry I (Joseph) am retired from, our pension is ‘at risk’ because many workers quit before vesting in the pension plan. More benefits are being paid out than are coming in. The pension fund cannot sustain itself until more workers are hired full time and retained in employment. Precarious work is devastating for older workers.
There are retiree organizations affiliated with the various unions, but these are controlled by the AFL-CIO which is not interested in class confrontation. The solutions that they offer the Pension and Retired community are reformist and do little to build the movement to expand benefits. For example, this month is International Working Women’s month in the U.S. while women earn .72 cents for every dollar a man makes. There are no proposals to advance the wages of working women. Women live in poverty in old age and their Social Security is already less than necessary to live a decent life. For those not fortunate enough to live in a house of their own, apartment rents in most of the U.S. are one-third of individual income and lifesaving medicines are often not affordable.

Right now, the Republicans are advancing proposals to increase the Social Security retirement age from 62 to 70. Penalties exist for workers that retire before age 65. In addition, with the help of Democrats and Joe Biden, proposals are being advanced to cut benefits to existing retirees by 20%. There are several retiree groups that we are involved in: National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid (NCPSSM), Social Security Works, the other 98, and Justice Democrats. These organizations operate within the confines of capitalism. Most argue for “saving” Social Security rather than expanding it. LTI has reinvigorated the campaign to ‘scrap the cap’ on taxable Social Security earnings. This is how we are approaching groups of Pensioners and Retirees.