Socialist ViewPoint and analysis for working people

July/August 2005 • Vol 5, No. 6 •

The Death of Pensions?

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

With the judicial seal of approval of the United Airlines plan to ditch its pensions, comes another battle in the long war of capital against labor. By this attack on those who have spent their lives making the fortunes of United, the “business community” opens yet another front in their rapacious war to gain more and more profits.

Now, thousands of disenfranchised workers must turn to the U.S. government for their pensions—a government agency known as the Pension Benefit Guaranty Board. But, guess what? The PBGC itself is going bankrupt. And, even if it were not, the PBGC doesn’t intend to pay out full pensions. If some workers are lucky, they’ll receive one third of their expected pensions. Some workers, who haven’t built up enough seniority, will get nothing!

(So much for the holy right of Contract!)

As this tragedy unfolds, executives and management make out like bandits. Like United’s CEO, Glen Tilton, who, in 2002-2003 received over $5.5 million in compensation—with a pension for $4.5 million locked up in a trust!

And, as United goes, so goes other companies in the airlines industry, and also other U.S. industries. That this comes along at the same time as the Bush Administration is trying to scuttle Social Security, is a social obscenity.

In fact, many of these companies are having pension problems because they intentionally underfunded pension plans. They meant for it to break down, and then they sought judicial support for their bailout plans.

Everybody wins—except the workers

This war against workers, unless it is vigorously opposed by workers fighting in their own class interests, will result in nightmares where elderly must work until they drop dead.

For, with no pensions, and no social security, how can it be otherwise?

This business-friendly, labor-hating government is actually trying to set up a judicial, administrative, media regime that will undo the New Deal.

After the Great Depression of 1929, mass movements, such as rent riots, sit-ins, marches, and great demonstrations, struck the country. One such movement was for pensions for those who spent their lives working in hard toil. Movements such as these in the 1930s changed things. Scholars Frances Fox Piven and (the late) Richard Cloward, noted, in The New Class War: Reagan’s Attack on the Welfare State and Its Consequences (Pantheon Books: 1982/1985 [revised/expanded edition]), p. 118: “In other words, the movements changed reality; they transformed the State.”

Business, however, in its never-ending quest for more profits, continues its war through the political leaders that it buys, and by furthering their agenda. Now, as assuredly as the earth revolves around the sun, comes this vicious attack on pensions.

United Airlines is not the end; it is but the beginning of an end. And it will be an end, unless working class people stand up, in their own interest, and fight for what their fathers and mothers, at great struggle and sacrifice, have won.

Consider the French, those people who are referred to, by many U.S. politicians, as quislings and cowards. They do not allow their political or business leaders to buffalo them. They hit the streets, in mass and militant protest, whenever the rights of working people are compromised. Recently, they closed down the nation’s transportation because of threats to workers” pensions.

American politicians, who often claim to want to help “working families,” are quiet as church-mice. The Democratic Party, which is as much in big business’s pocket as the Republicans, is mum.

People see it, and shake their heads, and go on.

They see it, and don’t see it.

Instead of uniting, to fight it.

—Copyright Mumia Abu-Jamal, June 1, 2005

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