Note: This is a rerun I published in our newspaper in 2004 and earlier on my blog. With our younger citizens now protesting and still being killed overseas it is now current with a little history thrown in.
Losing What my Father’s Generation Gained
I am at an age where government ineptness and corruption has little effect on my way of living thanks to my father’s generation. The gradual deterioration of life for common people and benefits my father’s generation fought for such as job security, good pay, pensions, medical insurance, overtime pay, vacations, etc., are slowing ebbing.
Because of apathy, the younger generations may wake up some morning and discover they are in the same position the majority of working people were in during the 1920s and ’30s. I remember it well and it’s worth avoiding. Some important person said “Even if you’re on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there.”
My reason for delving into this era is because of a conversation with a young man in his middle 50s. He asked my opinion about my generation being the greatest generation as we fought a war and lived through the depression. I didn’t fully agree with Tom Brokaw’s analysis that my generation was the greatest. I regard my father’s generation greater for the following reasons:
My father’s generation fought in World War I, which I thought could have been avoided. There were over 300,000 casualties and according to my evaluation of the Treaty of Versailles, it had a great deal to do with the creation of Adolf Hitler. I know this is debatable, but stand by my opinion until proven wrong.
An interesting note about this war was the Espionage Act forbidding citizens speaking against the war. Eugene V. Debs, president of the Railway Union, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for an anti-war speech. He ran for president while in prison and garnered over a million votes. I was negative 6 years old at this time, so am reporting from readings and my fathers recollections.
I lived in an industrial city between Chicago and Milwaukee in the ’20s and ’30s. There were two classes of people; labor and management. Labor lived on their own side of town and management lived on Lake Michigan in gated communities. Most of the laboring class lived in rentals, usually owned by management.
My dad’s generation were adults during the Depression and suffered the results of unemployment. Most lost 90 percent of their savings in banks. My father, Victor, always put a few dollars in the bank every pay day with the dream of sometime buying a house. He only received 10 cents on every dollar saved after the market crashed.
My generation didn’t suffer much from the Depression as we were children and you don’t miss what you haven’t had. Prior to the Depression, workers had poor working conditions, low wages and no benefits; so children only felt the Depression and anxiety of their parents, who were struggling to provide the necessities of life. During these times, fathers went out daily seeking some means of earning a few cents while mothers struggled to put food on the table.
A program called Relief paid each family’s rent and the neighborhood grocery store provided a small box of staples weekly. A social worker issued a ticket for needed articles of clothing which was taken to a clothing warehouse. All children on relief had similar clothing. This didn’t bother the children as they were all in the same boat. Recipients received no money.
This changed with the start of the war in Europe and the coming of labor unions. The union movement gained strength which was the onset of the middle class. Management found they couldn’t make much money without laborers and labor leaders brought this to their attention by different means.
My generation benefited from the previous generation taking care of us during the Depression and giving us a life where our souls didn’t belong to the company store; all gained through efforts of courageous leaders like my father.
Corporations have been chipping away at benefits derived in the ’30s and early ’40s with no dedicated leaders protecting the general public. Our government is now owned by a few powerful corporations.
Corporate power and greed are serious threats to America’s standard of living which has been slowly waning since the firing of the airline traffic controllers and now the outsourcing of jobs, with more to come.
I am 88 now and may not be around to see if my worries are real, but for my children’s’ and grandchildren’s’ sake hope I am in error. I am happy to witness the protesters making their voices heard.
There’s an old adage: “Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.