Give me your life and I will take care of you in your old age. So was the promise given to American employees after World War II. As Europe was enacting socialism and social programs so that no one would ever want again, the same desire permeated an America scarred and traumatized after the Great Depression. There was a great difference in the approach to this desire. Europe sought to fix these desires with government funded and proposed projects. In America, victorious after the war and conflicted about her role in the world, she found her resources diverted elsewhere in the world which left these welfare desires on the one segment of America that could best pay for them and who need the most out of people, corporations.
The plan was perfect in execution and if it weren’t for the 1980’s economic bust it would have worked for a good many years more than it has. The attitude was that if the employee gave his life to the company when he ceased to work and enjoyed his leisure latter years the company he had given life and limb to would take care of him. Sounds just like European socialism with work attached to it. It went along well with the new social security system as well and it appeared that America, the richest most powerful nation on the face of the planet also could take care of its own.
The plan began to degenerate into what we have today because of two factors. The “lifetime work” guarantee was broken in the 1980’s when companies laid off employees because there was no work for them to do and no more money to pay them. The first factor was destroyed. To compile the mess that was mounting since the late 1970’s was how long people were living. In the 1960’s the average time IBM paid out a retirement check was 18 months. The employee soon died after ceasing to work. Sending 1/3 of the salary for a year and a half was manageable for the bottom line. However by the beginning of the 21st century that time had extended to 22 years. This was directly correlated to the increased lifespan of Americans. In 1945 the average lifespan of an average America was only 54 years of age. In 2007 the average lifespan is now 77. That is great deal longer to pay out the social programs and it now costs a great deal more to make these grandiose “welfare” promises to employees. What is even worse, is that during and after the working years the price of healthcare has increased with the same quality of healthcare that increases lifespan increasing those costs as well even as the employee continues his employment of the company.
That brings us to 2007. Costly and outdated union contracts burden once-powerful companies and workers, promised the world find their working years bringing nothing but half or even a quarter of what they were promised when they went to work for the company 25 or 30 years ago. Economic times have changed and the modern American employee has really failed to adjust to these changes. Americans are now expected to take care of healthcare and retirement. This often causes confusion as Americans of lower income brackets that are not accustomed to making such large and long-term financial decisions and in financial arenas they are unfamiliar with. This has provided a large influx of necessary cash into stock exchanges and markets, but it is invested by uneducated and scared investors unsure of what they are really doing. This was evident with the ENRON and Worldcom MCI crashes. The people had invested their money in companies they trusted, companies they worked for, and they were burnt because they did not know the most basic of investing rules, diversify. That brings us to stories like, Rena and Dave Fleming — both 26-year veterans of the General Motors assembly plant in Oklahoma City — married after meeting there and recently finished building their dream house in nearby Moore. But on Monday, they learned they are among the 30,000 GM workers who will lose their jobs over the next three years.
“We were standing right next to each to other when we got the news today,” said Rena Fleming. “It was just really quiet, really quiet. And I don’t think it soaked in to everybody, but the whole day I felt numb. It felt like somebody had popped my balloon.”
The announcement of the cutbacks stunned the Flemings and their colleagues.
“The whole crowd just turned around, just turned around,” Dave Fleming said. “They didn’t say nothing, they didn’t do nothing, they were just like a bomb went off, they were shellshocked and they turned around and walked away.”
“A friend of mine came up to me and said, ‘Are you OK?'” Rena Fleming said. “I said, ‘yeah.’ She said, ‘Are you really OK?’ I said no.”
“Twenty-six-and-a-half years, that’s a long time,” Rena Fleming added. “I wasn’t ready to walk out the door yet.” (interview by ABC news 11-22-05)
Now GM is also beleaguered by an out of date business model and encroaching foreign competition, but the largest part is healthcare over heard by both current and retired workers.
The solution to this problem is clear, from both perspectives! As usual in American politics there are two factions to this issue as well. One maintains that it is high time for National Healthcare much as Great Britain and Canada have, meanwhile most employers and free market conservatives would like people to dig into their own budgets and provide for their own healthcare and save for their own retirement. This idea of “healthcare and retirement is someone else’s problem” is not so easily un-programmed from the older generation who still has another good 10 years in the working world. Meanwhile, we have great hopes from an apathetic younger generation who is smart enough to realize that expecting corporations or the government to take care of them is unrealistic and simply isn’t going to happen. The younger generation is much more behind the idea of a National Healthcare or being paid a great deal more to have to deal with these needs themselves. Unfortunately, the debate of these subjects still leaves the couple above laid off, taking a lower paying job for make ends meet and having spent 26 years on a promise, a promise that will never happen. It is time to write the last chapter in this saga of corporate welfare and to see what the sequel will hold.