JUNE 13, 1962
NEW YORK—I am getting an increasing number of letters complaining about the fact that while wages, mainly through the efforts of unions, are at least supposed to keep pace with the high cost of living, nobody seems to have taken any trouble in any field whatsoever to see that pensions are increased to those who have been on the pension rolls for a number of years. This is creating greater and greater difficulties among a great many people and there is a deep resentment growing up.
For instance, I have a postcard in front of me that reads:
"Do you know in Massachusetts there are 74 disabled teachers in dire distress? As for myself, after 29 years of teaching, my pension is still based on the horrible salary of other years. These teachers have pensions of $900 to $1,552 a year. After I pay my home taxes or rent insurance, I live on 64 cents a day. We have no power to help ourselves."
This is only a sample, and I think the same condition will be found to be the case in many other professions and fields of employment where people have spent their whole working years. In a few cases pensions are now being geared to raises in salary, but there are many pensioners whose income is still geared to the salaries for which they worked and which is no longer adequate to meet today's cost of living.
Legislatures seem unwilling to give consideration to these situations, perhaps because these groups of people are not well organized or are not thought of as being very active voters.
The situation in Algeria seems to be slowly moving toward a solution, but I think few of us realize how much the small and rural people of that country are suffering.
I have just received word of a new situation from the American Friends Service Committee, which has operated service units during the past two years in Morocco and Tunisia where they have helped 250,000 Algerians who escaped across the borders. Now that the Algerian border has been reopened, four staff members of this Quaker organization were the first representatives of a service group permitted to go into the war-torn hinterland of the country.
These Quakers found in certain provinces the entire rural population crowded into a series of so-called regroupment camps—virtual concentration camps—guarded by barbed wire and blockhouses manned by submachine guns. They saw 17 such camps, and the reason for them seemed to be that the housing in the rural areas seemed to have been completely destroyed. Estimates made of the number of people in these camps is somewhere around 2,000,000.
As the French withdraw, gates are opened, but where can the people go? And returning refugees from Morocco and Tunisia simply crowd into these camps because they have no other shelter. The resulting overcrowding brings about a medical situation that is quite appalling, for they have no doctors, no nurses, no medical supplies and no hospital facilities.
The French had been providing food and while there was no starvation there was bad undernourishment, especially among the children. Now that the French have left there is no source of food until the next harvest.
The Algerian situation is not unusual for new governments, which feel that once their freedom is granted their problems would be solved. On the contrary, however, they always find that new difficulties begin the day they gain their freedom.
In this case the new government finds a third of its population homeless. So, the Quakers are among the first to move in, since they are so well known and trusted, to try to do what they can in this really staggering situation. They are putting on a campaign for money; they are adding personnel to help reconstruct housing and establish workshops. And they say that in spite of everything the spirit of the Algerians is wonderful, and even in the refugee groups there is no feeling of hopelessness. The natives simply consider themselves resettlers, and they are willing to work.
I hope many people will answer the Quakers' call through the American Friends Service Committee, for they should realize that this situation is one that requires outside help. The resettlement cannot be accomplished by the people of Algeria alone.
I should like to bring to my readers' attention a documentary film called "The Sky Above - The Mud Below." A joint undertaking by France and the Netherlands, this motion picture was made by a group that crossed New Guinea over uncharted areas never before seen by white man. Though the hardships were unbelievable, the film is beautiful and intensely interesting.
These explorers encountered natives who might well have been hostile, but the group managed to see rituals that never before had been seen and photographed. They had to overcome physical difficulties as well as possible native hostility, and the resulting film is sure to hold spellbound those audiences that are interested in seeing the new and the unknown.