The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The Right to Retire with a Pension Will Take a Fight

Jun 17, 2024

Only about 22 percent of people in the U.S. have so-called guaranteed pensions, while the rest of the population is supposed to depend on plans, like 401(k)s, for their retirement. But nearly half of U.S. households have no savings in retirement accounts of any kind. How can they, when so many workers live paycheck to paycheck? So it would come as no surprise that about one in four U.S. adults over 50 say they expect they can never retire.

It took massive strikes and battles, by workers in this country in the past, to win the right to guaranteed pensions in the first place. In 1950, a union organizer and musician, Joe Glazer, wrote a song, “Too Old to Work,” a protest song inspired, at the time, by the United Automobile Workers’ union (UAW) campaigns for guaranteed pensions. Some of the song goes:

You don’t ask for favors when your life is through;

you’ve got a right to what’s coming to you.

Your boss gets a pension when he is too old;

you helped him retire; you’re out in the cold

There’s no easy answer; there’s no easy cure;

dreaming won’t change it, that’s one thing for sure.

But fighting together, we’ll get there some day.

And when we have won, we will no longer say:

(That we’re) Too old to work, too old to work,

when you’re too old to work and you’re too young to die.

Who will take care of you? How’ll you get by

when you’re too old to work and you’re too young to die?

At the time, autoworkers, through their strikes, won the right to guaranteed pensions.

But the clock has been turned back—over all the years where workers have not fought, so much so, that in 2008, the auto bosses eliminated guaranteed pensions for new hires, which continue to this day. And that attack has swept through other companies and institutions.

If workers are to attain the right to work a reasonable number of years, and then retire with a guaranteed high income, it is clear it will take a fight—even more massive than those of the past. And that fight will need to be directed at getting rid of the very system that has stolen the wealth workers produce all their working lives.