Advice from a (Socialist) Grandfather

They say you get more conservative, nostalgic for the past and critical of young people as you age. In my case it’s true, but maybe not in the same way most people expect.

This 60-year-old grandfather’s conservatism is reflected in a growing respect for the institutions, programs and social services that previous generations of ordinary working people built through organizing and struggle. I believe in preserving these institution, programs and social services despite the onslaught of right-wing choppers and cutters who proclaim “progress” when in fact people’s lives are being made worse.

My nostalgia for the past is reflected in fond memories of huge anti-war demonstrations, picket lines packed with people determined to get a good union contract and the feeling of being one among millions who believed another world was possible.

And I do sometimes ask myself what’s up with young people today. Mostly I’m just amazed they’re not out in the streets making a revolution.

I mean, they’ve got a hell of a lot of good reasons. Aside from the ongoing crap — war, the latest empire trying to dominate the world, poor people being screwed, Indigenous people being screwed, racism, sexism, other forms of discrimination — the economic system has put a huge bulls-eye on young people’s backs and the environment is about to collapse.

University and college costs at least six times more than it did when I was young and this at a time when you need a graduate degree just to get an unpaid internship. Youth unemployment is high and rising. And the jobs that are available? Suck-up service jobs. Smile and say, “have a good day,” or you won’t get a tip, if you’re lucky enough to have a job where you get tips. More likely you don’t have any incentive to smile except fear of a pathetic power-deprived supervisor who will ream you out for telling a customer your true feelings.

But let’s say you do get a decent job working for the government or making things in a factory or working in an office, the current economic system says you’re worth less than your parents and you damn sure don’t have a right to a decent pension and benefits. All that stuff is being cut back because the system can’t afford it, or so the people running things say.

A steady job? That’s not how it works anymore. Retire at 65? Sorry no, if you’re under 40 you’ll have to work years longer than your parents to qualify for any sort of pension. And all those good union jobs that people once enjoyed? Forget about it, the system has decided to crush unions. Or in the unlikely event you do find a union job, the new reality is lower wages for new hires.

Since the era of Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher the system has gone out of its way to screw young people. Since the stupid capitalists took power the system says it can no longer afford the wages, benefits, social services and rights that the smart capitalists managed to provide in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. (But it can afford war and bailouts for banks.) Ever since the rise of neo-conservatism (also called neoliberalism) in the 1970s the cheerleaders of capitalism on crack have been up front about attacking unions, pensions, public education, healthcare and social services — all stuff that people over 50 got to benefit from, but which young people are told they can’t have.

Then to top off all this shit, people under 40 and their kids are the ones who will really feel the effects of global warming.

So, what’s with a generation that accepts punch after punch and then insults on top of the beating, barely raising a peep in protest? How could anyone under 40 support capitalism? Why aren’t they organizing, striking, picketing and marching?

Sure they have more distractions than we had: video games, the Internet, texting, Tweeting, Facebooking etc, but most of these could be put to good use rabble rousing the revolution, if the dream was there.

Most likely young people are so brainwashed by the system that they simply can’t imagine another world is possible. Consumerism and its evil twin individualism are the most likely culprits. Both have been pushed down the throats of young people the past four decades like bird parents stuff regurgitated food into the beaks of their babies. Buy, buy, buy. Me, me, me. Both these isms lead to ill health, alienation, and social paralysis. Inaction is the result.

And who is responsible for pushing individualism and consumerism? People my age. The me generation. Hippies. The turn on, tune in and drop out crowd. The feel-gooders through substance abuse. Individualism and consumerism were their bag.

“Teach Your Children” was the name of a famous 1970 song. We did, but now we can only hope that they are wise enough to unlearn much of what they were taught.

Take some advice from a grandfather: Dream of a better world with a democratic economic and social system. A system that lives in harmony with the environment rather than one that wrecks our planet. Get involved to make it happen. Take action, especially collective action. You’ll have the time of your life.

And teach your children well.

Gary Engler is an elected union officer and co-author of the just released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite, an updating of the original designed to provoke discussion about the future of unions and the Left. Read other articles by Gary.