Thinking of Labor's Future: May 22, 2012

What Can Unions Do to Enrich the Final Years
Of Retired Members Who Need Their Support?

ďThinking about Laborís FutureĒ

(The Fifth in a Series of articles)

By Harry Kelber


The U.S. population is growing older and grayer, with millions of baby-boomers reaching the age of retirement each year.

There are currently 56 million people drawing Social Security benefits. The Congressional Budget Office expects to pay $727 billion in benefits this year and that the annual cost of the program will climb by 75 percent in the next decade, reaching nearly $1.3 trillion in 2021.

The CBO statistics is causing deep concern among Social Security beneficiaries, especially those for whom the monthly check is virtually a lifeline to survival. There are growing fears that Republicans, with the support of President Obama, will find some formula to reduce benefits and even impose drastic changes in the entitlement.

The American labor movement has traditionally been the most powerful defender of Social Security, but it has not sufficiently mobilized the millions of retirees themselves to protest any basic downgrading of the law. It is essential to involve as many retirees as possible to help ward off the attacks on this basic entitlement by a well-financed Republican-corporate coalition.

Unions Can Help Retirees Deal with Human Problems

Millions of workers, after they retire, suffer depression because they do not know what to do with their lives. They feel unwanted. Their former co-workers rarely visit them or even call them by phone for a pleasant conversation.

They donít know how to spend their days. They donít have to get out of bed early to dress and go to work. No one, outside of their family, cares what they do. They may spend hours listlessly watching TV.

If they are union members, they probably have been taken off the rolls, because they have stopped paying dues. They are not particularly welcome when they stop by at their old job and see a lot of new faces. What hurts most, especially for the more sensitive retirees, is a loss of respect. Many, after 27 weeks or more without a paycheck, begin to feel like a non-person.

How Unions Can Make the Lives of Retired Members More Livable.

When members retire, unions should not forget them. Keep them as a special unit and provide them with a meeting room of their own, where they can enjoy each otherís company and perhaps plan joint activities in behalf of the local union.

Letís remember that retirees have special skills and experiences that unions can utilize in their organizing and legislative campaigns. Their advice can be helpful. They offer a valuable resource that should not be neglected.

* * * * *

When workers have to leave a job where they worked, day in and day out, for 20 or 30 years or even more, it can be a wrenching experience. It may take many of them a long time to adjust to a non-working life.

The unions of tomorrow, if they are wise, will appreciate their retirees as human beings and will provide them with a strong bond for the years ahead.

If generations of retirees remain loyal to the principles of unionism, the labor movement is bound to grow and prosper. We can move ahead toward a brighter future.

The sixth in our series on ďThinking about Laborís FutureĒ will be posted here on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, and on our two web sites: www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.