The Great Miners’ Pension Robbery

Written by Gerard Darcy

Please note, this article is entirely based on Dave Douglas’ work. Dave is a former Miner and NUM official (from the NE), now retired. But, he’s still active and standing as a trustee of the Miners’ pension fund. We wish him well and success in his endeavours – he’s on Facebook


Pensions are just a recognition that workers who have invested their life, skills in their industry and often their flesh and blood need to be sustained, so when they have given their all and reached retirement age, their pensions are simply deemed as “deferred wages”.

In many cases, the employer sets aside a weekly sum of money, based on the years of service, to look after the workers when they reach the end of their working life. This is a right and was not a gift: it is part and parcel of the workers’ wages, part of their terms and conditions, given in exchange for their labour – the “deferred part” of their wage.

A Brief History Lesson

In the coal mining industry after 1975, a pension was a condition of employment. So the employer, in this case, the NCB (National Coal Board) set aside a pension fund – separate, ring-fenced and distinct from business operations. It is illegal – not to say immoral – for any company or employer to abuse the workers’ trust and that pension fund – think about Robert Maxwell’s crimes. It does not belong to the employer: it is the workers’ accumulated wages, set aside for their retirement. When the modern draft of Mineworkers Pension Scheme (MPS – introduced in 1975), miners were invited to contribute directly from their weekly earnings to boost the pensions, they would receive. So, for every £1 the employer paid in, they also paid a £1. This was all still their money. The MPS investment was 100% our deferred wages. It was never 50% theirs (NCB) and 50% miners: it was all for the miners. The clue’s in the name: “Mineworkers Pension Scheme.”

After the defeat of the 1984-85 Great Strike the mines started to close rapidly. Redundancy payments accounted for a sudden black hole in NCB finances, now that there was less coal and less profit to pay for them. The renewed war on the mines began in 1992 and after another year of resistance, many of the miners were bought out of resisting closures by enhanced redundancy terms.

At the same time big compensation claims were being won in the courts and the NCB/ British Coal Corporation found itself with huge bills to pay for crippled miners’ hands, lungs and lives. It was at this time, that the Coal Board launched the first of its pension raids. This took the form of breaching the contract of employment (MPS was a condition of service: i.e. it was not a voluntary scheme) by withholding its 50% contribution: that is, the money that miners had already worked for. In 1987, they took a ’pensions holiday’ and stopped the payment of some £870 million for three years. There were more pension holidays in 1991 and 1994 and a surplus of over £5bn was creamed off during that time. These “pension holidays” are only on the employers’ side and many have been taken elsewhere in local government and other public sector pension schemes – it’s simply a way for employers to dodge their obligations as employers. 

As usual, disinvestment in the pension scheme began under the Tory government of the late 1980s.

‘Guarantor’

A fear was floated that the MPS and the miners were now on their own: should the scheme fail, or our investments flounder, the miners would lose all or part of our pensions. The fund needed a ‘guarantor’, who would help the fund ride out any trough and allow it to recover. But, the obligation to provide one fell squarely on the shoulders of the government, which had created the situation by leaving the miners on their own. It then insisted on a 50% share of all the miner’s investment profits, without the slightest moral or financial justification.

Let’s be clear – If the government was proposing some joint business investment which allowed them to share 50% of the returns, they would have had to match the value of the investment the miners had already made – directly through their wages and indirectly through their deferred wages/pensions. They could then justify taking half of any profit. But the truth is, they had not paid a penny into it. Yet, just to be sure it would not cost them anything, they insisted that the Miners’ develop a financial ‘safety net’ – a contingency fund ring-fenced for any sudden drop in investments. That was the Miners’ own money, not theirs. They were safeguarding themselves against ever having to pay anything out in return for the vast sums they had drawn out.

Again, one wonders why the trustees were not challenging such an unprecedented piece of financial skulduggery – a burden not imposed on any civil servant, police or Post Office pension fund (yet). This was never ‘an agreement’: it was a ‘take it or leave it’ imposition. Miners have heard a lot about the pensions ‘surplus’, but this should be clear that this is the money which remains from investment returns after pensions have been paid. It is only ‘surplus’ because payments are too low.

The short way to solve the government’s theft of the ‘surplus’ is for there not to be any! So, increase the regular pension, the miners actually receive. Miners have protested about this for years, through mass petitions, demos, conferences and trying to nail down MPs who’d listen to their arguments. This finally started to win through this year (2020) and, since the government could stand the stink of it no longer, they allowed an all-party parliamentary committee to set up a national public enquiry.

This examined in detail the whole history and financial operation of the scheme. The report which resulted was unanimous: there was not and never had been any justification for a government of any hue taking money from the miners’ pension investments; that the responsibility for securing the fund lay unconditionally with the government; that governments cannot make financial and commercial profit from state employees’ pension investments.

The committee went on to point to the £1.2 billion ‘reserve fund’ and how unlikely it was that it would ever be needed, given the rapidly declining number of miners week on week and the good health of the pension investments. This fund should at once be paid back into the miners’ operating fund to raise the pensions of miners and their widows by an average of £14 a week – which would be a lifeline to many miners’ families. The clear conclusion of the committee was that Miners should not be contributing anything towards a fund guarantor, as this was the government’s obligation. The Miner’s union’s understanding is that all the monies wrongly taken out ought to be repaid into the fund.

The Johnson Government and its response

As usual, the PM wrote cheques that quickly turned worthless

Great excitement was generated in the socially deprived coalfield areas, and chinks of light appeared to be breaking through. After all, Boris Johnson, in response to a direct question at a public meeting, assured those listening that all money wrongly taken from the miners’ pensions would be repaid. The findings of the all-party committee could not have been better, and the miners were optimistic. However, the current Conservative Energy Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan slammed the door shut, saying the scheme was fair to both “the members and the taxpayers”. She forgets that Miners have paid tax all their working lives and continue to pay tax on the pension, and that the money she is talking about was not raised and invested by random “taxpayers”, but exclusively by the miners! In an unbelievable burst of arrogance, she told them that they have the right to benefit, but “the government has taken on all the risk”.

Simply put, only the miners experienced the risk to accumulate this money, not governments. Then, the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy tells the Miners that the fund is 30% better off as a result of the government underwriting it. Firstly, that’s a figure plucked out of the air with little or no basis. But, even if as true, it was the Tory government which closed down the NCB/BCC and left this vacuum. The government created the need for a guarantor and is duty-bound, having created the uncertainty in the first place, to underwrite it.

To date, retired miners have paid the government £4.5 billion, without it costing them (HMG) one penny. Combined with the previous ‘contribution holiday’, this comes to a total of £9.5 billion. So the miners and dependants are owed £9.5 billion by the government! Now is the time for justice and to set right this great wrong.

What you can do:

  1. Phone or Write to your local MP – c/o The House of Commons, see details below. 
  2. Lobby the Labour Party to correct this historic wrong
  3. Watch for any updates on this campaign and get involved

Labour Joins UDC Listening Event

Last week Uttlesford District Council held an engaging and well-attended listening event designed to enquire into the experiences of BAME residents of the district.

Two of our Executive Committe members, Sam Naik (Women’s Officer and VC Membership) and Sanjukta Ghosh (Policy and Women’s Officer) were invited to speak and give their views.

We hope all members spare a moment to watch our friends in action:

Lockdown Reading

Stuck for something to occupy you whilst stuck inside on these dark winter nights? Our own Samantha Naik (BAME Officer and Membership Vice Chair) has kindly authored a few book reviews to help you pick a good read.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell (1914)

In the early twentieth century, a group of painters and decorators and their families in a small town are exploited by their employers, and suffer from ill health, low life-expectancy, insecure housing, humiliation, and poverty. Some act with generosity and kindness; others go along with the Conservative and ‘Liberal’ (of that era) masters, believing they are their betters, and that socialism is evil; a few socialists persevere knowing that one day they will win.

This book has inspired many activists. It shows us what it was like to live in poverty, with no welfare state, and it is the answer to the elitist fiction of Ayn Rand; the workers are skilled and talented, yet cannot make a living. It surprised me that the issues of a century ago are similar to those that trouble us today: approximately 20% of working people in 2021 are poor (and this statistic is set to rise during the COVID19 recession) and may be in insecure employment, rents are exploitatively high, homelessness is a risk, and poverty causes ill-health. Back then too,  the Conservatives demonised poor people while cutting benefits. The mystery of ‘why do poor people vote Tory’ was very much in evidence in the early 1900s, too. Tressell skilfully told this story, with characters, good and bad, that will live on in your mind long after you close the book. An inspiring read.

The Warmth of Other Suns – Isabel Wilkerson (2010)

A non-fiction book that reads as a novel, with characters that are truly real. Beautiful descriptions, interspersed with the harsh reality of life in the USA for black people, after the abolition of slavery. What methods of painful exploitation could the South invent, to continue to control the black workforce, even in the aftermath of slavery? Why has it been difficult for black people to amass wealth, compared to their white counterparts, so that generations later, black people still suffer the historic injustice of ‘Jim Crow Laws? These questions are answered, in Pulitzer Prize winning fashion, by historian Wilkerson.

The great migration of Black Americans from southern states to northern states in 1915 to 1970 was not something I had contemplated: the bravery of those who sought new lives due to cruelty of racism, each of them taking a leap into the unknown, and often finding that the racism followed them. It is also useful to consider current racism in the USA and UK has developed from doctrines of white supremacy that were needed to justify the cruelty. The racism inflicted by southern states was not so long ago – racial segregationists were still arguing their case in the 1970s.

Both books show that race and class are used by the ruling powers to exploit people, without conscience, for material gains – even in rich countries where there are enough resources for everyone to live decently.  We see this in ex-President Trump’s ‘culture wars’ that set citizens against Muslims, Mexicans, and anyone who challenged fascism. We see it in the Tories demonisation of refugees, veneration of statues of slavers, and the slagging off poor people – refusing to trust poor people with money and instead giving vouchers for £5 worth of food (as happened in January 2021) as replacement for school meals, and calling such a pitiful parcel a ‘hamper’ (while charging the taxpayers a much higher price). The corruption portrayed in Tressell’s novel is evident in modern Tory Britain. 


The election of Biden may signify a turning point in the USA. Under would-be-dictator Trump, racial injustice came to an ugly head, with the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and subsequent BLM protesters being tear-gassed, and the White Supremacists roused to insurrection and attempting to overthrow democracy in January 2021. In America, things must (hopefully) become fairer, because racial justice is now an issue that is recognised by the majority of US citizens. 


Perhaps Biden can also help us make the UK fairer too. Here, BAME people suffer health inequality, evident from the Marmot Reports of 2010 and 2020, and have died in disproportionately high numbers from COVID19. Whatever happens in the next four years, I think Biden will help move our discussion back into rational areas – and that can only be a good thing.

Saffron Walden CLP AGM 2020


Thursday the 26th of November saw the 2020 AGM for Saffron Walden Labour Party.
Despite being the first ever SWCLP AGM to be held online the event was well attended and hosted some very lively, comradely debate.
The evening started with debate on the following motion relating to electoral reform, put forward by Samantha Naik:
This Constituency / Branch Labour Party resolves:

  • To call upon the Labour Party to reject First Past the Post, the voting system
    currently used for General Elections, and to support the introduction of a form
    of Proportional Representation in which all votes count equally and seats match
    votes.
  • To call upon the Justice and Home Affairs Policy Commission of the National
    Policy Forum to consult the party membership specifically about their views on
    Proportional Representation in the next cycle of policy documents.
  • To call upon the Labour Party to set out how it will select a new, proportional
    voting system for general elections, in time to offer it as a concrete alternative
    to First Past the Post in our next manifesto.


This motion was passed by vote on the night and will be sent on to the Justice & Home Affairs policy commission of the National Policy Forum.

The meeting then moved on to the business of the AGM, full minutes can be found at the link below my signature, but the main body of the meeting was taken up with reports from the outgoing exec officers, an update to the CLP’s standing orders to add the new role of LGBT+ Officer to the Exec Committee, and the election of the new Exec Committee, in which I am proud to serve as Secretary.
A full list of the Exec Committee Officers is in the minutes or you can see them at the “Our Team” link to the left of this screen.
Your new Execs will get straight to work with a committee meeting next week, so you’ll hear plenty from us over the coming weeks.

There’ll also be an invite coming out soon to a festive themed social event, via zoom of course, in December. As usual this will be a great opportunity to meet some of your SW Labour comrades and to take all our minds off covid-19 for a while with some festive fun and a mince pie or two (bring your own I’m afraid). I hope to see you there.

Andrew Sampson
Secretary – Saffron Walden CLP

Labour call on Uttlesford to provide free women’s sanitary products

Uttlesford District Council should provide free women’s sanitary products so that no local girl or woman has to face the indignity of a lack of menstrual products, said Saffron Walden Constituency Labour Party at its annual International Women’s Day event at Saffron Walden Day Centre on Saturday.

Saffron Walden Labour Women’s Officer Sanjukta Ghosh launched the party’s petition, stating that based on statistics by the End Child Poverty Coalition, around 2,300 girls live in poverty in Uttlesford. She said: “In one of the richest districts of the fifth richest country in the world, this is completely unacceptable. It is a real, local issue which we as a collective can resolve. If toilet paper is provided freely in public toilets, period products should also be available.

“For the sake of dignity for girls and women, Saffron Walden Constituency Labour Party call on Uttlesford District Council and other local authorities in the area to provide free menstrual products in all of its public facilities. Schools, libraries, youth centres, public toilets, should all provide full access to a range of period products.”

Sanjukta launched the petition, which calls for non-means tested distribution in public buildings, such as toilets and libraries, and a drive to assist vulnerable sections of the population, notably households dependent on food banks and people facing housing insecurity.

Also speaking at the event was socialist Kashmiri human rights activist Faria Attique who spoke on the violence, discrimination and patriarchy faced by women in Pakistani- and Indian-administered Kashmir. She also highlighted the cultural taboos against menstruating women, who face exclusion and are gagged from speaking out against period poverty in Kashmir.

Gemma Davies, a nurse and a local Labour party member, spoke on sex discrimination within the NHS and the need for trade union organisation to campaign for women’s voices, both among staff and patients.

Siobhan Sliman, an activist with the Pension Reform Alliance and local Labour member, highlighted the problems many women now face as a result of changes to the retirement age, which has impoverished many working women.

Pamela Jenner, a retired local journalist, emphasised the need for trade unions to tackle ongoing sex discrimination within the news industry and challenge sexist stereotypes perpetuated in the media.

Fish & Chips + Quiz 21 Feb

Join us on Friday 21 February in Stansted for fish & chips (contact for delicious veggie/vegan options!), plus tea/coffee & dessert. There will also be a quiz and a raffle (please donate prize(s) if poss). And we will collect donations (food or cash) for the Foodbank. All for £11 per person! For those that fancy a glass of wine or a beer, there will be a bar – please bring cash for donations. See Event below for full details (click on the link). We need cash payment in advance, thank you for your understanding. This promises to be a fun event! Bring family & friends. And welcome to new members, please attend – this friendly event is a good way to get to know others! Look forward to seeing you all there!

Fish & Chips + Quiz 21 Feb
Where: Stansted Day Centre, Chapel Hill, Stansted, UK
When: Friday 21st February at 7:30pm
Yes, I’m coming

Tom van de Bilt selected as Labour Parliamentary candidate for Saffron Walden

Tom van de Bilt has been selected as Labour’s candidate to stand for Saffron Walden Constituency in the next general election. Tom lives in Stansted with his wife, Sarah and their two young sons. Tom works for a Cambridge based software house and has had a diverse career in both the public and private sector, including working for three local authorities and for a market leading software provider to public libraries. He is a parish councillor in Stansted. Tom’s political priorities are to secure a referendum on any Brexit deal, tackle the climate crisis and reverse the crippling Tory cuts to public services.

Speaking after Friday’s meeting Tom said:

“I am delighted and honoured to be selected as the Labour candidate. I’m a committed socialist and a proud European in a pro-European socialist party. I’m looking forward to hitting the campaign and talking to lots of local residents about how labour can deliver for people across the constituency and build communities for the many, not the few.”

Labour Highlights Local Housing Crisis at Manifesto Launch

Some of the Labour candidates and activists who attended the launch

Labour launched its manifesto for the Uttlesford district council elections on Saturday with a call to deal with the local housing crisis and defend public services from cuts.

Recently published figures show that the council housing waiting list surged 37.6% in 2018 to 1,112 households as over 300 more households found themselves in housing need. The rate of growth was the tenth highest in England and the highest in Essex. In contrast, the overall number of households on council waiting lists fell 3.5% in England and declined 3.2% in Essex. Meanwhile, Uttlesford had the highest social rent costs in Essex and the thirteenth highest in England, outside London.

Daniel Brett, Labour candidate for Stansted South and Birchanger, said: “Hundreds more households are being driven into poverty and housing need due to soaring housing costs and failing housing policies. Labour’s district manifesto sets out our objective of achieving 2,500 new council homes by 2030 through the delivery of garden communities and the establishment of a council-owned housing development company as part of the council’s commercial investment strategy.”

Guest of honour at the launch Daphne Cornell, former Labour councillor for Saffron Walden Castle ward and twice mayor of Saffron Walden, said: “It’s very easy saying no to everything the Conservatives do and promising the world, but this manifesto is marvellous and is a real alternative. There is a housing crisis and we need social housing. When I say social housing, I want council housing.”

Simon Trimnell, candidate for Castle ward and chair of the local Housing Board, said: “I want a fairer community where everyone has a chance to raise a family, without being pushed out because of housing costs. I want people to have the opportunity I got to have a council home in their community when they cannot afford market housing. Labour is the party of Saffron Walden and Uttlesford. We want to look after the whole community.”

 Labour candidates for Castle ward Laura Snell and Simon Trimnell with former Saffron Walden mayor and Labour councillor for Castle ward Daphne Cornell

Yvonne Morton, former Labour district councillor for the former Plantation ward and now candidate for Shire ward, said: “When there was a Labour group at Uttlesford, we achieved a lot. We were able to chair committees and get access to policy documents, so we could advance Labour values even when the council was Conservative controlled.”

Gerard Darcy, candidate for Great Dunmow South and Barnston, said: “Labour councillors will help transform the district. Labour is already changing the debate. We’re not Nimbys, we have a full set of policies that will create a better district and we’re excited about the possibility of playing a part in shaping Uttlesford’s future.”

Labour’s Uttlesford manifesto, which contains 42 separate policy
proposals, can be downloaded here:
http://labour4saffronwalden.org.uk/manifesto/

Library Battle Is Not Over, Despite ECC Agreement to Cough up £10,000

Stansted Labour Party warns that the fight to save the community’s local library is not over after Essex County Council agreed this week to pay £10,000 towards rent of the Stansted Exchange and foot the bill for the refit of the library.

Essex County Council had agreed to rent the library space in the £1.2 million building at a rent of £13,000 per annum plus a contribution to running costs. However, just days before the lease was due to be signed, ECC launched a library strategy consultation that put the library in the Tier 4 category, scheduling it for closure. The new multi-purpose building, which includes parish offices, opens next month after years of work, during which ECC committed to supporting the project.

Stansted Labour spokesman Daniel Brett, who is a member of the parish’s library working group that prepared Stansted’s response to the consultation, said: “The parish council was forced to hike its precept by around 10 percent to cover a shortfall that was mostly related to the uncertainty over the lease. It would have been better for residents if ECC could have listened to parish protests months ago so that the parish did not have to resort to raise taxes.

“The offer of £10,000 falls short of the annual rent expected and seems like the ECC is trying to squirm its way out of potential legal difficulty. It also suggests that Essex only plans to rent the space for nine months, potentially withdrawing the service in January next year. We have been handed a small amount of extra time to respond to the consultation outcome due in June, should alternative plans have to be made for the library.

“Labour supports the parish council’s position that there is firm evidence Stansted library has been wrongly classified and, based on past usage, local deprivation and rural isolation, it should be re-categorised as Tier 2 and kept open and properly staffed. We believe no libraries in Essex should face a withdrawal of services and the county council should honour its statutory responsibility to maintain a comprehensive library service.

“If Stansted and Thaxted libraries are closed, Labour will urge Uttlesford district council to step in and pay for the rent – totalling £20,000 across both libraries – and the cost of librarian staff to cover the opening hours as well as creating user groups. This could cost up to £50,000 per annum and is well within the means of UDC’s Communities and Partnerships budget.”