"I've been working here over 50 years, so what happened? Am I about to die tomorrow? Our grandfathers didn't agree among themselves to stop at a certain age. I know a lot of grandfathers who work. What's bad about working here? What else will I do? Wait at home to die? Pray all day in synagogue?"
Thus Yeshayahu Lichtenstein and Yehezkel Birzon explained why they were refusing to abandon their Montana Ice Cream parlor at the Tel Aviv Port despite the large sum of money they'd been offered (See "No last licks yet" on Page 7 )
Lichtenstein is 84 and Birzon is 76, and their arguments express the feelings of many people who have reached "retirement age." Only Lichtenstein and Birzon are their own bosses, so they are able to work for as long as they want.
But that's a privilege the overwhelming majority of employed people don't have once they reach the age of 67, even if they are at the peak of their strength and abilities and still derive great satisfaction from working. In June, a senior lecturer at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology filed a claim against the institution for forcing him to retire at 68. Suits like this have been dismissed in the past, since the institution was acting lawfully. Now, for the first time, academics who do not want to be forced into retirement have petitioned the High Court of Justice against the retirement age legislation itself, claiming - correctly - that it constitutes age discrimination and sentences people at the top of their game to fading away, emotionally and financially.
Aside from the practical impact on those who are forced to stop working, the retirement age, for all intents and purposes, sets the person's "expiration date". The retirement age establishes a cultural axiom that any man - and certainly any woman - who is over 67 is useless, incapable and not really worth much. When you are marked as such at age 67, then it's no surprise that people who are 45 and over have a hard time finding work - after all, under this methodology, they're already on their way out.
TheMarker recently published a series of articles in which experts stated that a person's age says nothing about his health, vitality or abilities. In fact, an older person has experience and stability, and has often finished raising his or her children and is available to work longer hours.
Life expectancy has risen considerably since the retirement age was set, and it continues to rise, but we should be able to find all kinds of creative solutions for that. We can and must do away with the retirement age and let every person go over, in their own time, to some part-time work and part-time pension arrangement. We must abandon the idea that one has only one career and allow everyone a second study period during the course of his or her life.
But life expectancy isn't all that has changed - the economy has also changed. Any debate over the abilities of people over age 65 conceals the fact that this is not merely a cultural struggle, but an economic one. Older workers are "expensive;" they have relatively high salaries that increased with time, education and experience, and employers can't wait to get rid of them so they can be replaced by younger people who earn a lot less. The retirement age has turned from being a protective measure for employees into another tool for employer control, to the workers' detriment.
Age, like gender or race, is not the thing itself, but the status that the patriarchal, neo-liberal society assigns it. Shimon Peres, after all, is not old, nor is Yaakov Neeman, Ehud Barak, Mosi Wertheim or Stef Wertheimer. They have power and wealth, they're the bosses. They, and those like them, are the ones who determine, in the Knesset and in the workforce, who is old, by the fact they determine who to employ and what the retirement age is. Essentially, they are deciding who will merit being able to determine his own fate and the direction of his life, just as they do for themselves.
In the United States, Canada, Australia and Britain they have done away with mandatory retirement by age, but in Israel the finance minister prefers to insist on the struggle to raise the retirement age for women. There are many excellent and exciting options for reorganizing the workforce to accommodate rising life expectancies; all you need is to want to.