All over Europe national governments have plans to severely cut back on the pension systems. Denmark is no exception to this. There is a lot of talk in the media about this. The politicians are constantly harping on about the fact that "reform is necessary". But what they mean by "reform" is actually the opposite of what anyone would understand from this word. Instead of "reform", what they mean is "counter-reform", i.e. cuts.
The argument that is being used to justify imposing poorer conditions on older workers is that, in the not too distant future, there will be far too many pensioners in relation to how many younger people there will be to provide for them. This is the phenomenon that is described as "the burden of the pensioners", and it will have an impact on many countries besides Denmark.
Governments everywhere are trying to raise the age of retirement, to cut pensions, to abolish or reduce benefits such as early retirement, and are generally trying to "get more people into the labour market" and keep them there for longer. The workers of Denmark, and of the rest of Europe, - if the right-wing politicians and economists get their way - will be forced to work even harder and for a longer period of their life.
In countries like Austria and France where the plans to cut pensions are further down the road than they are in Denmark, there have been huge protests and enormous strikes against the governments plans over the last few months. In Denmark there are no concrete attacks as yet, but the huge dissatisfaction with the reductions in early retirement carried out by the former Social Democratic government, gives us an idea of what we can expect if the right-wing government tries to carry out cuts in this field. Opinion polls show that there is a massive majority in favour of keeping the possibility of early retirement and also of maintaining a proper welfare system for older workers.
State pensions and early retirement are welfare rights that the labour movement has fought for so that workers can retire to enjoy a decent life after a life of hard work. In the last period in most workplaces we have witnessed an unprecedented increase in pressure and stress and workers getting worn out because of longer hours, speed-ups, etc. And it is not just about being worn out physically, as the critics of early retirement claim. Many workers are worn out through physical pressure, stress and the enormous demands of the employers. It is a situation that means that the labour movement has to put all its might into the fight for decent working conditions, for a shorter working week and for good conditions for the pensioners, so they can retire and live a good life. We don’t need more time at work, but on the contrary, what we need is less time!
The senile decay of capitalism
A society that has to worsen the conditions for certain layers such as the pensioners is an unacceptable one. People that have worked hard for most of their lives - to create profit for the capitalists - should not be put under even more pressure when they get older. The labour movement must use all its power to stop any attempt to remove the right to early retirement or to increase the pension age.
It might be true that in the future there may be fewer young people in proportion to the older population, but that is not the problem. At the same time as the right wing is saying that "we need more people in the labour market", the levels of unemployment are increasing massively in most sectors! Therefore how can they justify their claim that there are too few people to provide for the pensioners?
The problem is not the pensioners. They are not a burden, they are people who have been productive throughout a long life. Neither is the problem one of the young people; that are supposed to be lazy and work too little. Most workers work their pants off every day. The problem is that capitalism is no longer able to provide development and welfare for the workers who are precisely those who allow society to function. In a healthy society production would rise steadily, so fewer people would easily be able to provide for more, without it having to be a problem. Already under capitalism today a worker produces much more than in the past, but as long as it is the employers and their interests that rule, all this greater productivity cannot be used for improving welfare. This is further aggravated by the cyclical crises of capitalism, when resources, both human and material, are not used, unemployment rises and there are cutbacks.
But it doesn’t have to be that way at all! It is time to give the correct diagnosis. The probelm is neither the older workers, who are worn out, nor the young workers who are supposed to be lazy. It is capitalism, which in its older days is suffering a bad case of senile decay.