Stop the attacks on workers of all ages
Published Nov 24, 2010 10:30 PM
WW photo: Alan Pollock
Following are excerpts from the Nov. 13 talk given at the Workers
World Party national conference, by Phebe Eckfeldt, a leader of the Boston
branch and a representative of the Harvard Union of Technical and Clerical
Workers, AFSCME Local 3650.
We will all grow older. It’s the dialectics of nature.
Some of us haven’t thought about this prospect yet. Others are starting
to ponder it. Many are there already, accepting it or not.
Shouldn’t workers have the right to look forward to retirement? Playing
with grandchildren, traveling, sleeping late, pursuing long-forgotten interests
and organizing against injustice. Aging under capitalism can be terrifying,
life threatening, demeaning and degrading. Older workers are expendable, costly
and unprofitable; many are being pushed out, laid off and fired.
An Obama-administration-appointed commission just proposed raising the Social
Security qualification age to 69, which would rob workers of funds they have
earned and deserve.
Marxism explains that employed workers produce a greater value than they
receive back in wages. If one works a seven-hour day and produces enough in
four hours to equal one’s wages, the next three hours are unpaid; the
boss gets these for free. This is “surplus value.”
Bosses’ profits are directly proportional to workers’ unpaid labor.
If workers are paid more for their labor, as longer-term workers generally are,
the bosses’ profits are lowered proportionally. Wage or benefits’
reductions means bosses get more free labor time. Benefits like health
insurance, pensions, paid sick and vacation days are deferred wages that belong
to the workers.
Harvard University union activists are fighting against management’s
campaign to drive out older workers, which began after the big-bank-run Harvard
Corporation lost billions in endowment funds after the stock market
To increase profits, Harvard has laid off workers, many of them older and many
women. In one department three older women workers were laid off and replaced
with three younger white men. Other workers, afraid of pending layoffs, felt
forced to take retirement plans that they could barely live on. They thought
part-time jobs would supplement their incomes, but that became nearly
impossible, due to the depression.
Harvard brings in new managers to slash costs by driving out older workers.
They use a tactic of tracking errors or using accuracy rates, telling workers
their work must be 95 percent to 100 percent accurate. The manager decides what
constitutes an “error,” how the errors are measured, and on whom an
error is imposed. They target disabled workers, union representatives and
senior, long-time workers.
These rates are impossible to meet because the rules constantly change and are
a trap. By tracking a worker’s every move, by micromanaging and
harassing, the work environment becomes hostile and stressful, sometimes
leading workers to quit or be fired. A disabled man with eyesight problems was
run out in this way, and so was a 30-year employee.
The managers who are brought in to get rid of workers are aptly described in
Fred Goldstein’s book, “Low-Wage Capitalism”: “An
office clerk may wear the same white collar as a manager whose job it is to see
that the clerk gives every last minute of labor time to the boss. The clerk has
sold her or his labor power to the boss and the supervisor is there to see that
this labor power is as thoroughly exploited as possible. The superficiality of
the category ‘white collar’ will be revealed the moment the clerk
and other workers demand a raise, try to organize a union, or go on
Harvard aims to drive out older workers and replace them with young workers,
paying them one-half or one-third of a senior worker’s salary. Management
super-exploits young workers who work the same hours but produce more as they
are required to know and use many computer programs. Because most young people
are very knowledgeable about computers, one worker can do the same amount of
work as two or three workers did years ago.
Harvard is violating the union contract, which states that laid-off workers,
mostly older, must be given first preference in hiring, but management turns
away many qualified senior applicants to hire younger workers. Harvard’s
attempt to drive a wedge between older and younger workers is insidious.
However, to management’s dismay, there is strong solidarity between
younger and senior workers, among union activists on campus and from students.
This bodes well for future struggles.
We look to the solidarity among French workers of different ages in their
militant struggles for pensions. The youth will show the way. Together,
let’s expropriate the expropriators.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news DONATE