In their Jan. 7 Opinion piece under the headline, “Courage is needed to tackle far-too-generous pensions,” Bill Tufts and Lee Fairbanks attack one of the last vestiges of social security by targeting public-sector pension funds in Montreal and elsewhere.
Tufts and Fairbanks are using the ongoing economic crisis to foster a climate of insecurity. They proclaim that there is a crisis in public-sector finances, and that public-sector workers must therefore tighten their belts.
They say that Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay must be courageous and tackle public-sector pensions, which they claim are the root of the problem. They situate themselves as the guardians of the taxpayer.
Their logic is troubling. It is the excesses of capitalism that are to blame for our current economic predicament, not the excesses of labour. In fact, public workers and public financing ensured that nations weathered the crisis by sustaining economic output. Yet, now the public, not the banks and multinational corporations, is being asked to shoulder the burden.
Public-sector work really is the last bastion of “decent” work, providing employees reasonable wages and a level of job security. As the global crisis drags on, one would hope that we have learned from granting private interests too much power.
Public-sector provisions should be strengthened rather than eroded in order to ensure greater economic and social stability.
Further eroding public pensions during an economic downturn is an invitation to prolonging economic stagnation. A more sensible approach would entail sustaining public pensions as a means of ensuring reasonable consumption habits. Extending public-sector standards to the private sector is the best means of ensuring that the current crisis is not prolonged. It is also the best means of ensuring that future crises do not emerge.
But the debate over public pensions must extend beyond strictly economic concerns. As Tufts and Fairbanks themselves state, “pensions were created for a noble reason: to provide employees a reasonable level of income in their golden years.”
People have a right to decent levels of security and well-being, plain and simple.
Moreover, this noble endeavour did not fall from the skies. Social security emerged after years of popular struggle by people concerned for their future and their communities.
Preserving and extending public pensions is a struggle worth fighting for. One can only hope that working people in the public and private sectors are up to the challenge.Matthew Brettis a graduate student in political science at Concordia University, specializing in political economy.