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Mary Pitt: Why It Must Be Done Now

Why It Must Be Done Now


by Mary Pitt

In the debate over the ''reform'' of the Social Security system, the question that is most often asked is, ''Why must it be done now?'' The trust fund, as presently constituted, is sound for years to come and, with ''tweaking'' can be viable into the indefinite future. ''Why now?''

In order to truly understand the reasoning of the Republicans in general and, specifically, the multi-national corporations in their feeling of urgency to sell their plan to end Social Security, one has to know of and reflect upon life in the United States prior to its beginning. Before the late 1930's this was an entirely different country with even greater divisions than now and the changes stem, in large part, from Social Security and similar domestic programs that were instituted at that time.

The economic crash and the resultant Great Depression that caused many rich people to become instant paupers was not the beginning. For the ordinary working class, poverty had always been there, with people having to work for whatever those who needed the sweat of their brow or the strength of their backs was willing to pay. Labor unions had arisen when men refused to work in unsafe conditions and had, in many cases, been killed for their efforts. Immigrants and others who were even more desperate than they were quite willing to risk their lives, crossing violent picket lines and working in those same life-endangering conditions in order to buy a little food for their families. In some instances, the United States Army had been called upon to force these men to abandon their collective bargaining efforts and to allow the "scabs" to enter and take their precious jobs. Poverty was a given among the working class and the struggle for survival was accepted as their lot, only the fortitude and ingenuity of the heads of household serving to keep starvation from consuming them.

Even education was difficult for the parents and unpleasant for the children. Schools were often distant and transportation was a problem, many children having their entry into school delayed while they grew large and strong enough to walk the distance to and from that center of education. Once they attained those hallowed halls, they were treated as pariahs, in their soiled, outgrown, and ragged clothing, and their "backward" manner. Lunches, if any, were carried in a syrup pail and often consisted of bread, (with a bit of butter on a good day). If they were caught looking longingly at another student's peanut butter, potted meat or (oh, Heaven!) bologna sandwiches, they were taunted with names for appearing "greedy". A good meal was beyond that which they were allowed to desire.

Families were commonly comprised of three generations with, often, a maiden aunt thrown in here and there and they were all the responsibilty of the man of the house. Other than those "old maids" who were teaching school and some young secretaries in businesses, there were no jobs for women other than "taking in" laundry and ironing or cleaning the houses of the "fine ladies" of the neighborhood, and that effort earned them little to add to the family larder. Children who were not in school were put out to work for only pennies a day and that, too, was added to the effort of providing for the family as a whole.The major differences in the lives of the poor with the coming of the depression were that these jobs were fewer because there were fewer people with the money to hire help and that the farmer had greater difficulty in growing and selling his produce because of the concurrence of the drought and the economic depression.

Such was the state of affairs when President Roosevelt took office in 1932, and he went right to work. He closed the banks and re-organized the economic system, instituted construction projects of roads, bridges, and dams to provide jobs for idle workers, implemented a farm program to stop land erosion and over-farming of land while subsidizing production of needed foodstuffs and establishing a system of distribution of food and clothing to the needy, fostered the electrification of rural areas and subsidized the establishment of rural telephone systems. In short, by the force of his influence and the power of his programs, he literally forced the United States out of the doldrums of Dickens' day and into the twentieth century. Poor children were inspired and enabled to become more and better than their greatest aspirations had appeared to them before and the people had, at long last, hope for a better existence.

The crowning glory of Roosevelt's tenure was the Social Security system, which allowed wage-earners to participate in a retirement and survivors' insurance plan, backed by the "full faith and credit" of the government of the United States so that the workers would "never again" face an old age of desperate poverty but would be able to be self-sufficient rather than a burden on their children and grandchildren while leaving their wives and any minor children able to survive their premature passing. The program would survive and grow, through wars and recessions and against pessimistic predictions of its imminent demise, and despite the efforts of the Republican Party to amass enough power to end it. In fact, it was so popular that it became known as "the third rail of politics". Nobody dared to attack it or to change it, except for the better!

The Republican Party has as its mascot the elephant and that is quite appropriate inasmuch as it is said that an elephant never forgets. The Republicans fought the Roosevelt recovery plan but were helpless to stop it, despite their many efforts to "reform" it to death. As the result, over the intervening years, labor unions grew, better-educated people expected to be paid better for their work, and "room-and-board" servants became a thing of the past. Working people felt that they deserved a better life for their efforts and minimum wage laws were put into effect. This meant that the power of the wealthy over the lives of the wage-earner was lessened. People were refusing to work for sub-standard wages and the cost of manufacturing and producing products soared as the profit margins were brought down. The power of the "moguls" waned as the voice of the people grew and the democratic ethos transformed the nation against the wishes of Republican activists.

Until now. The Republican Party now has a sitting President and a healthy majority in both houses of Congress. Under the cover of "9/11", the resultant "pre-emptive war" and the decrease in taxes for the wealthy, the budget is in crisis, the super-structure of our nation is crumbling, funds are cut for highways, and railroads are becoming but a memory. Support for education has been reduced under the guise of the under-funded No Child Left Behind, farm programs are being diluted, good jobs are ever more scarce while wages fall, and one target is left standing: Social Security! This leaves us with the one reason, the only reason why we are being bombarded with the the propaganda that Social Security must be "reformed" now. BECAUSE THEY CAN!

*************

Mary Pitt is a septuagenarian Kansan who is self-employed and active in the political arena. Her concerns are her four-generation family and the continuance of the United States as a democracy with a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people". Comments and criticism may be addressed to mpitt@cox.net .


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