Huge coalition moves to stop privatization

“Social Security ain’t broke and Wall Street won’t fix it!” shouted hundreds of marchers in front of the Stock Exchange, Chamber of Commerce and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office in San Francisco, Jan. 18. From there the Gray Panthers announced a Feb. 3 national “Day of Deluge,” when people are urged to swamp their Washington representatives with the demand: “No privatization of Social Security.”

The Bush administration created the lie of a “system in crisis” in order to wreck Social Security for the profit of Wall Street tycoons, demonstrators charged. But Bush has a tough fight on his hands. The AFL-CIO, the NAACP, NOW, the Alliance for Retired Americans, and others are bringing together a massive national grassroots coalition against administration plans to privatize Social Security.

“The Social Security battle will be huge,” Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice-president of the AFL-CIO, said at a Los Angeles dinner in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “This is one of the most successful family protection programs, not only in our country, but anywhere in the world. Yet when Bush looks at it, there are dollar signs in his eyes, and he sees a huge pool of cash that could make his ultra-rich buddies even richer.”

In Ohio, a broad coalition involving labor, retirees, community groups, congressional representatives, Cuyahoga County and city of Cleveland Departments of Aging and activists throughout the state’s northeast corridor began to chart their course to protect Social Security from the privatizers. Among the coalition’s goals are to help form a state-wide coalition and to convince Republican Sen. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine not to support Bush’s plan. “If we can do this we’ll have contributed to the national effort,” one Ohio leader said.

Since his re-election, Bush has quickly gone on the offensive against Social Security. It is expected to be at the top of his agenda in the beginning of his second term, starting with a massive “big lie” campaign that Social Security will be “broke and busted” by the time younger workers retire.

Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities refuted that lie. He cited a leaked White House memo that outlines the first part of Bush’s strategy: to convince the public that the system is “headed for an iceberg.”

Greenstein says the system’s trust fund contains U.S. treasury bonds that will keep the system working full-scale for decades. Estimates from the Social Security trustees and the Congressional Budget Office both foresee the ability to pay full benefits until at least 2042 and that it will never be “bust.”

Some economists say that the best answer to any Social Security concerns — including raising benefits, which are too low for many — would be to “scrap the cap.” Under the current system, people pay a Social Security tax (FICA) on their income up to about $90,000 per year. Income above that amount is not subject to Social Security tax.

The Bush plan will take money from paychecks, earmarked for FICA, and divert it into individual savings accounts subject to the gambles of the stock market. “This is an attack on the central basic entitlement of the American people, across all generations. It’s a battle we can and have to win,” William Parry, president of the Association of Retired Americans in Washington’s Seattle region, told the World.

The Wall Street-backed “Alliance for Worker Retirement Security” is pouring millions of dollars into this dishonest campaign, he said, because the people who would manage these accounts would all take a share. “Multiply that by millions of accounts — that’s billions of dollars flooding into Wall Street.”

Young people have a stake in saving Social Security and shouldn’t fall for the privatization scheme, Parry said. “It’s not something that only benefits the retired. It is also an insurance system, and protects younger workers as well as old.”

Social Security protects all workers with a disability and a life insurance policy, Parry noted. “It protects the families of workers who die or are hurt at work. There are more than 5 million children on Social Security, and non-retired people receive three out of every 10 checks the Social Security system writes.”

Rita Haley, president of NOW’s New York City chapter, said diverting money to private accounts would be “very harmful to women.” Women are much more dependent on Social Security benefits because they have fewer potential resources, she said. “No one will benefit except those on Wall Street.”

Isabel Kimble, who marched in the Jan. 18 San Francisco demonstration, said, “I was alive when President Franklin Roosevelt put Social Security in. But I wasn’t very interested then. I was only 21 years old — I thought I’d never be old. But now I see how important it is to everyone. Though I have other retirement income, Social Security is a basic element of retirement income.”
Marilyn Bechtel and Rosalio Muñoz contributed to this story.