For the past few weeks in Ontario, all focus has been directed towards the provincial government’s decision to overturn mandatory retirement, and replace it with voluntary retirement. The provincial government claims that it no longer wants to force people to retire at the age of sixty-five, but rather wants to allow people to choose their retirement age. This policy will come into effect in the autumn of 2006, and will reflect similar decisions that were made in previous years by other Canadian provinces (i.e. Manitoba in 1974, Quebec in 1982).
On the surface, this retirement policy seems like an excellent step for the McGuinty Liberals to take: the provincial government is providing people with more “lifestyle choices”. However, voluntary retirement impacts the working class in a negative way, and only masks the crisis of capitalism.
It is a known fact that poverty increases each year, and working class people can no longer save money for the future. Working class people certainly cannot afford to put aside a portion of their income for retirement savings. But these working people cannot rely on their pensions, either. According to Sid Ryan, the president of CUPE Ontario, 40% of people do not have pensions. In 1995, the Council of Canadians reported that 10 million people paid into the Canada Pension Plan every year, but only 3.2 million people received benefits after retirement. The numbers have gotten even worse in the past few years, while senior poverty has increased. On top of that, CPP benefits barely provide enough money for an individual to live on—in 2001, CPP benefits were raised to a maximum of $11, 420 (this still leaves an individual below the poverty line!).
The working class cannot afford to retire, and therefore must work into old age in order to survive. By pushing for voluntary retirement, though, the McGuinty Liberals merely sanction the need for working class people to work until they die. The problem of poverty is not solved, but rather encouraged.
All around the world, similar developments are taking place. In 2003, the Austrian government proposed pension reform that would affect the working class in the most gruesome way. They even had the nerve to suggest early retirement for parliamentary members (with full pension), while denying the working class any hope of early retirement. Also in 2003, the Berlusconi government of Italy proposed pension reform that would require workers to work at least forty years before they could receive their pensions for retirement. Even though the level of state pensions has been falling since 1995 in Italy, the Berlusconi government still tried to propose this pension reform.
Governments around the world, including Canada, are trying in a consistent manner to cut back reforms for seniors. But who do these cut backs specifically affect? The working class, and working class seniors! And the McGuinty Liberals are no different than any other government around the world. Voluntary retirement allows workers to work until they die, and in turn prevents workers from ever receiving their measly pensions. Let’s face it – if older workers do not leave the workforce, they will never collect their pensions. This means more money to remain within the government.
Many labour unions (the CAW, for example) and the NDP firmly denounce this policy of voluntary retirement on the basis that older workers will not receive the same rights as younger workers. And they are correct; their fears are not mere fantasy! The provincial government does not want to provide older workers with the same health coverage or workers’ compensation coverage that younger workers receive. Age allows the government and corporations to exploit workers in a different way. But of course older workers should receive the same rights as younger workers. Of course older workers deserve the same health coverage and workers’ compensation coverage!
But while the labour unions and the NDP believe that full pensions and complete health coverage can be provided to seniors under the current system of capitalism, we know that this is a pipe dream. The government would rather spend money on military expenditures than provide a dollar for retirement. This policy of voluntary retirement shows where the government’s interests lie: the government wants to see working class people work until they die, so that they never have to collect their pensions. Pensions are at an all-time low, but instead of investing to improve them, the government would rather force people not to use them; in other words, to work until death.
With high unemployment, and in particular youth unemployment, it is ridiculous to suggest that voluntary retirement will benefit anybody but the ruling class. The working class has fought hard for the right to retire and in many cases, has fought for the retirement age to be lowered. The government claims that voluntary retirement is about choice, but the fact is that working people will not get to choose to retire. With the prospect of living on just $11, 420 a year, retirement at any time is not so appealing. We ought to be talking about making it possible for working people to retire with a decent income, and sooner if they so desire or require. Yet this is only possible if we overthrow this system of capitalism, and replace it with a system of socialism. Retirement should be available as a legitimate option sooner, but mandatory at some point, as everybody deserves a break from labour. But this only works if real financial security exists. And that will only be possible in a society that is not governed in the interests of profit for a few. While capitalism ushers in exploitation, cut backs, and veiled attacks in the guise of choice, socialism allows for a planned economy that would guarantee the allocation of money into pensions and retirement.