Retirees fight for young workers

One thing most of us in South Chicago SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees) have in common is children and grandchildren. Given that unemployment is above 25% for teenagers and worse for African American and Latino youth, we worry about it a lot. Even our kids and grandkids with skills and college educations are catching it. What could be more frustrating than working hard to learn a trade, or going to college, only to graduate with no prospects for work?

We laugh about the kids moving back in with us and taking in our grown grandchildren. It’s a laugh to keep from crying. As one of our members put it in a bull session before a meeting, “It’s never good to lose your job. But not having a job when your adult life is just beginning is worse than losing one when you’ve had a chance to work and build up some reserves. A lot of your self-esteem and confidence comes from being independent and taking care of yourself. ”
Not to mention that when you have a good job, especially a union job, you learn a lot about how to work together collectively to solve problems and to organize.

Steelworker retirees tend to think like this so our bull sessions often quickly turn into “what can we do about this.” So it was natural for us to start kicking around ideas about how to fight for jobs and the unemployed. We established a “Jobs or Income Now” committee to help get us going. We drafted a petition calling on Congress to:

1) Recognize the right to a job for all – if private industry cannot create enough jobs then the federal government must create public service jobs similar to the Works Progress Administration in the Great Depression. It’s time for a stimulus program that rebuilds our infrastructure and actually puts people back to work.
And to provide:
2) Unemployment compensation for the duration of unemployment,
3) Unemployment compensation for first time jobs seekers.

It’s that last demand that helps put the fight for young workers up front. Think of the pressure it would put on Congress to find money for youth jobs programs if first time job seekers could collect unemployment until they got a job. And why not? Young people just starting out have bills and basic needs like everyone else. (This is also one reason why our SOAR chapter has been so active in the fight for health care reform. Many of us also have kids who are without basic coverage.)

We’re getting a great response to our petition. And we’re using it to make contact and gather around us the unemployed themselves in this fight for jobs. We have begun setting up appointments with members of Congress to discuss legislation that moves in this direction. We are joining with others to support the labor movement’s efforts on jobs including the exciting new Jobs for America Now national coalition. We’ll be on the phones and in the streets for passage of health care reform and for the jobs legislation that is now before Congress.

Hey retirees may be a step slower, but we’ve spent a life time learning how to get things done. And while we love our kids, we really would just as soon they had good jobs and a place of their own – nearby.



Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been a life long trade unionist and was active in rank and file reform movements in the Teamsters, Machinists and Steelworkers unions in the 1970s and '80s. He was co-chair of the Save Our Jobs committee of USWA local 1834 at Pullman Standard in Chicago and active in nationwide organizing against plant shutdowns and layoffs. He was a founder of the unemployed organization Jobs or Income Now (Join), in Chicago, and the National Congress of Unemployed Organizations in the 1980s. Scott remains active in SOAR (Steelworkers Active Organized Retirees). He lives in Chicago.