My father never really retired. When he reached 65, he was obliged to “retire” from his job at the Jamaica Agricultural Society. But,with no pension and only a small gratuity to depend on, he was glad to get another – lower-level – job at the JAS. Family friends came to his rescue with an offer to be overseer of their property in Portland. And that was what he did until he died.
Dying “in harness” wasn’t unusual in Jamaica. We didn’t have programs like Medicare or Social Security. You worked until you died, or you lived with your children (who often felt quite put upon).
So sitting here at my desk in Florida, with no job to go to this morning, I consider myself fortunate – the beneficiary of many years of “social progress.”
I credit the trade union movement with transforming society. The courageous working men and women who “hit the bricks” to demand better wages and conditions blazed a trail for white-collar patsies like me, who were usually too chicken to organize and fight for our rights – or who thought we were too good to identify with the “working class.”
Without the union movement’s example, I don’t think politicians would have had the guts to enact the “social programs” that all of us enjoy today.
It was the unions that built Britain’s Labour Party. And it was Labour Party members like Nye Bevan (one of the heroes of my youth) who fought for such benefits as health care for the aged. I doubt that President Roosevelt would have been able to introduce Social Security without the backing of the labor movement. Ditto for President Johnson and Medicare (photo above).
But in the past half century things have not gone well for the union movement, especially in America.
Slandered by the media, which pounced on every example of malfeasance they could find, the labor movement has fallen into disrepute. And the corporate elite and their allies in Congress have taken advantage of this climate to systematically dismantle America’s unions.
So I was not surprised to read an article in the Christian Science Monitor (by Mark Trumbull) describing how, increasingly, elderly workers are forced to keep working – not only in the United States but also in new industrial powerhouses like China.
The article (read it by clicking here) notes that:
Around the globe, from developed Europe to fast-rising China, a common trend is emerging: The workforce is taking on an older profile as retirement is delayed or redefined.
Trumbull concludes that:
A “global aging” trend is already a major influence on the world economy – one that promises to transform the meaning of “golden years.”
The article points to a multitude of factors contributing to the end of an era when a lifetime of work was rewarded with a few “golden years” of leisure. But, to me anyway, the underlying cause is the waning influence of the labor movement.