AARP: Throwing Grampa Under a Bus

When the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) announced last week that they would consider cuts to Social Security for those of us still too young to collect it any time soon, they joined the ranks of politicians and wealthy people anxious to throw grampa under a bus.

In their statement arguing that the AARP has retained its long-held defense of Social Security, they explicitly state they are open to slashing this crucial benefit for the generations wandering about looking for jobs, many with recent college degrees in hand.

They wrote: “It has also been a long held position that any changes would be phased in slowly, over time, and would not affect any current or near term beneficiaries.” This is, at best, a tepid and equivocal defense for senior citizens and an explicit abandonment of the young and middle-aged — the pre-old, if you will.

Their retreat from the field of battle comes at a time when the fight is most in need of leadership, organization and combativity. An unemployed 59-year-old man in North Carolina who was desperate for health care, resorted to “robbing” a bank a few days ago so he could access the state’s health care system through the prisons. “This is a bank robbery, please only give me one dollar,” read the note he handed the teller. He’s now in jail and getting the attention he needs.

Because I’m in rigorous prep mode for the big Socialism 2011: Revolution in the Air conference, to be held in Chicago, July 1–4, I haven’t the time to blog these days and wanted to share a post I drafted last year, when the battle over Social Security  ramped up. Then, before the AARP had thrown in the towel, it was simply titled: Throwing Grampa Under a Bus. AARP’s ignominious position caused me to include this addendum.

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 Mad Men 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 pension, enjoying a tiny fishing boat with his grandkids, 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 that 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.

Among the 100+ talks at this year’s Socialism conference are: “Wisconsin: The end of the one-sided class war,” “The Political-Economy of Doritos: Demystifying the Agro-Industrial Complex,” “The kids aren’t alright: The global youth revolt” and “Crisis and class struggle in the age of austerity”


4 responses to “AARP: Throwing Grampa Under a Bus

  1. Corporate Amererica has taken over, time to get nasty.

  2. Hi Sheery:

    My grandfather, Paul Seyss, worked at Knapp for many years until in 1965 we had a disabling stroke. I was wondering what more you knew about Knapp and if you knew of my grandfather.

    Michael Sherman

    • My grandfather worked there from the 40s through his retirement in the mid- to late-70s. He initiated the drive for a union back in the 40s and was the strike captain on the picket line. He loved that job and the men he worked with — all men, of course. I think he was a foreman by the 70s when he retired with a full pension and lived out his last 20 years fishing and living in a modest house and enjoying life with his grandkids, he died in 1999. I’ll mention your grandfather’s name to my mom and see if it’s familiar. Best, Sherry

      • Hi Sherry:

        Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. My grandfather worked there from the late 40s to 1965. He and my grandmonther lived in Bayside and, if it helps jog your mom’s memory, they both spoke with thick Austrian accents. He made a great living there. Too bad jobs like those are gone.

        Thanks again,


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