Throwing Grampa Under the Bus

We have entered an era of social retrogression. We will not only live worse than our parents, but the priorities of capital are so brutal that even grampa is being thrown under the bus.

“Dessert with lunch is ibuprofen,” one 58-year-old Ohio factory worker told the New York Times. Under the current Social Security laws he faces at least eight more years of grueling labor. If Congress further guts Social Security, as it appears set to do, retirement age for those of us under 50 today will soon be 70.

Think about that. Whether you’re a café barista, a cubicle dweller, but especially if you’re a laborer you’re being told to work yourself literally to death. Now we’re getting slammed with years more on the job —if you’re lucky enough to have one—and you could retire in poverty with your body too shot to even enjoy what leisure time remains.

We are moving rapidly in reverse. My grampa Moishe started working at age 10, eventually  as a photoengraver—the blue-collar guys crucial to Madmen in the days before computers. Photoengraving was the means to create high-quality four-color advertisements for newspapers using copper plates and acid. Grampa Moishe helped form the union at Knapp Photoengraving in Manhattan and retired before he was 60, spending the last 25 years of his life on a tiny fishing boat with his grandkids on a pension, living  in a modest house with a postage stamp yard that he shared with my gramma, a union school secretary. From all appearances, they had a joyous and relatively healthy retirement life on Social Security and two pensions. All that is gone.

A union teacher friend of mine with a 401-K plan has had it drilled into her head that this Wall Street casino gamble of a replacement for pensions is actually a pension plan. Bullshit, it’s a gamble and one workers are losing.

As for Social Security, even liberal bourgeois economists agree that it could remain solvent and unchanged for many decades to come if we returned to taxing the rich and corporations. I don’t believe for a second this Congress or Obama will even threaten to do so without being forced by a fight from below. Right now, the debate is over whether to cut us off at the hip or the knees. This is madness.

Nobody should be forced to live with such a precarious future. I don’t think we really have much choice—if we don’t fight back they will literally kill us. In the meanwhile they are stealing years from our lives and sucking all joy from what little leisure time we have left.

Grampa Moishe didn’t have much of  a formal education, but he understood my socialism very simply: “You’re fighting to make the world fit to live in.” Very eloquently put, grampa.

Come check out my talk on What is Socialism this Thursday, Sept. 16, 7:30PM, Columbia University, Hamilton Hall, 1 train to 116th St. Read this excellent analysis piece by Alan Maass, “A Plot to Steal our future.”

Sherry Wolf is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation (Haymarket Books, named one of theProgressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.


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