My piece in Union News: How grass root trade unionists are backing 1950s women to get back their pensions

Earlier Times: Unison delegation with Jackie Jones, BackTo60 campaigner and expert on the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The success of the crowdfunding appeal by BackTo60 campaigning group to run a series of films exposing the plight of 1950s born women yet to get their pension has been partly due to campaigning trade unionists.

As well as getting a large number of small donations from many of the women themselves, two grassroots campaigners from the trade union movement managed to raise an astonishing £3400 towards the campaign.

The full story is in Union – News today.

Mac Hawkins from Unison and Louise Matthews from Unite – both women’s officers at their local branches – and strong supporters of BackTo60.

Mac Hawkins got support from the Wales region of Unison and Louise Matthews got support from Unite’s Equality Team and Unite Companions.

But the key thing is how much money they got from their local branches Mac Hawkins raised some £1400 from her Caerphilly branch while Louise Matthews got support from her Unite branch in Southampton.

Tireless campaigners

Both have been tirelessly campaigning to get money for the films which will form a key part of keeping the issue in the public eye before BackTo60 appeal the judicial review decision on July 21.

The one sad thing in this story is that at national level in both unions there appears to be a cooling off in financing the campaign. Before the general election, Unison and Unite contributed to the campaign, and Unison came alongside BackTo60 to deliver a petition to Downing Street.

This time the national unions are still supportive – but possibly because of the divisions within Waspi on what they want from the government, they may be holding back.

BackTo60 is sticking with full restitution and compensation for all the 3.8 million 50s women – while some other Waspi groups still have to spell out exactly how much compensation they want.

Big pay out for 3.8 million 50swomen will never happen – Tim Loughton MP

Tim Loughton MP

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s State Pension Inequalities is to be revived and will try and persuade the Tory government to make a offer to the 50swomen.

Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for Worthing East and Shoreham, used his response to the Queen’s Speech, to say both he and Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea, East will approach ministers again to try and get some money. Mr Loughton was returned with an increased majority while Carolyn Harris saw her majority severely reduced.

If the deal is anything like the last one it is likely to cost some £2 billion and probably only cover a small portion of the women who may get £73 a week. Before the election Mr Loughton said as a condition BackTo60 would have to drop its legal action against the Department of Work and Pensions, according to the Daily Express.

Image
Tim Loughton’s appeal before the election

He used his latest speech to attack Labour for offering to spend £58 billion over five years to remedy the situation describing it as having ” disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women. “

This is the full extract of his speech on the issue:

“It is an issue that featured rather disgracefully during the election campaign, and it is that of the so-called WASPI women.

Many on this side and, of course, on the other side have championed the case of the 1950s pension women who were hit disproportionately by those changes in the pension age under previous Governments. Many of us have been lobbying the Government to acknowledge that disproportionate disadvantage and to do something about it.

I will call on the Government again and, working with my co-chair of the all-party group on state pension inequality for women, we will continue to put pressure on the Government to acknowledge that and do something about it.

The Labour Opposition’s uncosted promise of £58 billion, which did not appear in their manifesto, disgracefully raised false hopes in vulnerable women.

That amount was almost half the NHS budget, and it was never going to happen. I do hope that we can come up with a realistic, deliverable, doable offer for those women who have suffered and are suffering disproportionately, because that is the right thing to do. “

His speech cut no ice with BackTo60. They are to continue pressing ahead with their application for an appeal in the New Year to get full restitution for the women with the support of the trade unions.

Unison, the largest public service union, are donating £700 to the cause on top of the £80,000 already raised.

Meanwhile I expect some more lobbying from Connect Public Affairs and Waspi to press for a reduced deal. Below is an example sent to me of an earlier lobbying campaign captured in Portcullis House in the House of Commons.

Firefighters and Judges win £5 billion pensions battle with the government

A victorious Matt Wrack points the way for firefighters to get justice Pic credit : FBU

The new government has suffered two major losses within days of winning the general election over economies made to workplace pensions in the public sector.

First on Monday judges won a victory which will benefit up to 1000 part time judges who lost out on their pensions when they moved from part time to full time work.

They claimed they while they were working part time they were being discriminated against by the government because they were denied pensions. The case had originally been thrown out by a tribunal because it was ruled ” out of time”.

However the Supreme Court, in one of the last judgments presided over by Lady Hale overturned this, and said: ” in the context of judicial pensions, a part-time judge may properly complain: during their period of service that their terms of office do not include proper provision for a future pension; and, at the point of retirement, that there has been a failure to make a proper pension available. “

The ruling could cost the government £1 billion.

Then a few days later after a long campaign by the Fire Brigades Union an Employment Tribunal ruled that following the government’s defeat at the Court of Appeal when current cuts in firefighters pensions were ruled as discriminatory the only remedy was that the pension scheme introduced in 2015 to impose such cuts should be scrapped.

The ruling will not only affect 6000 firefighters who would have had to save an extra £19,000 to offset such cuts but also applies to  schemes for the NHS, civil service, local government, teachers, police, armed forces and the judiciary. This will leave the new government with a £4 billion bill.

A triumphant Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“Last Christmas, we gave firefighters the gift of a victory in the courts. This year, firefighters can celebrate knowing that their union has secured their rightful retirement – a gift borne of solidarity that proves what unions can achieve.

“The law has now changed and our FBU claimants will be entitled to return to their previous pension schemes. Legislation will need to be amended, but there can be no delay in implementing this remedy. Firefighters were robbed, and they must now be repaid.

“To the new Tory government, let me be clear. We fought tooth and nail against your attacks on our pensions and won. If you dare to try to pay for these changes by raiding the pensions of current or future firefighters, we will come for you again – and we will win.”

Ministers had spent nearly £500,000 fighting the case which basically left firefighters on a two tier system – with substantially worse conditions for the latest recruits.

In 2015, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition imposed a series of detrimental changes to firefighter pensions, which included a built-in “transitional protection” which kept older firefighters on better pension schemes while younger members were moved onto a new, worse pension scheme, which included a requirement to work until aged 60.

The victory shows once again that the courts can overturn decisions made by governments. Since this applies to workplace pensions rather than the state pension. sadly it is not a parallel case which would bring justice for the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who have had to wait up to six years for their pensions. But it is another reason for them not to give up hope that they can convince the courts of the justice of their cause.

John McDonnell explains the Labour pensions offer to 50swomen over more than tea and sympathy.

John McDonnell with Azhar Ali, Labour candidate for Pendle, explaining the offer to some of the women

For those who are following the fight by all groups to get compensation for 3.8 million women who have waited up to six years for their pensions, here is a detailed video with John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor on how he intends to implement the £58 billion package

There are a number of new points revealed in this video.

  1. Labour is looking at offering both a weekly payment and a yearly lump sum depending on whether the women would like it.
  2. The implementation of the plan would begin as soon as Labour enters government.
  3. Labour has already talked to Whitehall civil servants so they can work up the scheme immediately Labour gets into office.
  4. Every woman will get a letter to prevent the previous debacle under successive governments where women did not hear of the offer
  5. He discloses he has talked to Michael Mansfield, the QC, who is drawing up the appeal for BackTo60 who are seeking full restitution to make sure it cannot be legally challenged.
  6. Labour ruled out means testing the offer because they found it would be complicated and expensive to do this and would delay payments. Bad luck economist Frances Coppola your idea wouldn’t work
  7. Yes it would mean Theresa May and Harriet Harman would get payments – but because it is taxable they will have to pay a big chunk back.
  8. Means testing would also break the principle that it is a national insurance based payment – based on entitlement not a benefit.
  9. He reveals the BBC had great difficulty understanding what the deal was about and why he had decided to pay it.
  10. Finally for tech lovers the end of the video he talks about introducing a national free broadband system – citing a small tech company in a rural area which devises new games – but can’t expand because of the poor quality broadband in its area. He points out this will be a boost for business.

On Byline Times: BackTo60 group to seek permission to appeal Judicial Review blocking compensation for 50swomen pensions.

Campaigners after the judicial review.

Tonight I have written a story for Byline Times disclosing that lawyers have decided to seek permission to appeal the Judicial review which rejected all the discrimination claims for the 1950s born women who face a six year delay in getting their pension. The story is here.

BackTo60 have also launched a £72,000 crowdfunding site to raise money for this action. The crowdfunder site is here. Already at time of writing it has raised over £10,000.

Labour’s top people start at last to move to compensate 1950s born women pension losers

In conversation at the private meeting. Left to Right: Moira Ramage, prospective Labour Parliamentary candidate for Paisley and renfrewshire South;myself; Laura Alvarez and Baroness Blower

Senior Labour figures are preparing to improve their offer to compensate 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who are facing hardship by having to wait up to six years for their pensions.

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, indicated that the party is now looking at a new offer as the general election approaches.

 He made the comment after a private meeting at Labour’s annual conference this week organised by his office which enabled leading figures from campaigning organisations fighting the women’s cause to pitch their case to senior people from the Labour Party.

The meeting came as the two largest trade unions affiliated to Labour, Unison and Unite, backed the case for full restitution for the women. Len McCluskey, leader of Unite, personally endorsed full restitution, in a tweet. The party is also discussing putting the offer in its general election manifesto.

Among the leading figures at the meeting were Laura Alvarez, the wife of Jeremy Corbyn: Andy Whitaker and Rory Macqueen respectively head of strategic communications and chief economic adviser at John McDonnell’s office; Mike Amesbury, shadow employment minister, and Fran Springfield, co chair of Labour’s disability organisation and one of the people drawing up the party’s manifesto. Mr McDonnell came to the end of the meeting.

The whole cast of #50swomen and their supporters at the meeting pose for the camera

The organisations represented included BackTo60, Waspi Scotland, Waspi Ltd and Waspi 2018.

 They were backed up by two women from Unison in Wales, Lianne Dallimore and Mac Hawkins who also addressed the meeting.

Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales, also pressed the case for full restitution and explained how it come done by a special temporary measure through Parliament using the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) which was ratified by Margaret t5hatcher in 1986. This allows the money to be paid without amending the present pension age of 66 for men and women.

At present Labour’s offer is confined to backdating payments for two years from 66 to 64  for 1950s born women but no further compensation.

Labour is also waiting the result of the judicial review held in June where Michael Mansfield, QWC put the case for full restitution for all 50s women. It has now been announced it will report on October 3 – next Thursday.

Among other people who attended the meeting were Christine Blower, former general secretary of the National union of Teachers, who is about to be ennobled as Baroness Blower; Labour MP for Ipswich Sandy Martin; Labour MEPs Jude Kirton-Darling and Richard Corbett. Moira Ramage, prospective Labour candidate for Paisley and Renfrewshire South.

In Union News: Britain’s biggest public sector union Unison supports BackTo60

From Left to right: Unison’s national pensions officer, Alan Fox; Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales; Sian Stockham, senior vice president Unison and Gloria Mills, national secretary, equalities,Unison.

At the TUC I was commissioned to write an article for Union News, the website that reports on all trade union action, about Unison’s decision to back the 1950s born women for the full restitution of their pension from the age of 60.

Unison were keen enough to support the BackTo60 campaign to come to Downing Street to hand in a letter to Boris Johnson, supporting their case which has been backed by a Parliamentary motion, started by Anna McMorrin, Labour MP for Cardiff, North and now signed by 190 MPs from all parties.

Next week Unison will be backing the campaign at a fringe meeting supporting the cause of the 3.8 million women at the Labour Party conference on Tuesday in the Metropole Hotel, Brighton.

You can read my article on the Union News website here.

A new warm film on Socialism’s big event – The Durham Miners Gala

There are no deep coal mines in the UK. There are no coal miners. There are no brass bands attached to a living colliery and there no new union banners for new pits. And soon, under new environmental rules, the sale of domestic coal, except for smokeless fuel, may be banned.

So one would think that an event called the Durham Miners Gala would be consigned to our nostalgic past with a few old men having a pint down the local working men’s club.

But the facts contradict this. A new film released on Friday The Big Meeting by director and producer Daniel Draper two years after the last pit closed in the UK in 2016, shows the very opposite with a thriving modern festival in the City of Durham attracting over 200,000 people. It is a tribute to the almost eternal traditions of community, solidarity and fraternity that lives on long after the last mine closed.

It is warm almost affectionate appreciation of one of Labour’s major festivals seen partly through the eyes of a diverse group of individual participants, including a 19 year old Oxford undergraduate who runs a local left wing bookshop in her vacations; a Waspi group of middle aged women campaigning for their pensions and a woman who plays in a brass band.

The film itself interweaves the past and present with split screen and colour and black and white clips contrasts the old celebrations with the new. It has clips of Prime Ministers like Clement Atlee and Harold Wilson addressing the meeting from the balcony of the Durham County Hotel when the National Union of Mineworkers was a major force in the land to today’s political participants including a video from presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders in the States to Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader.

It shows how the country has changed. One black and white sequence shows young lads and lassies (well before the contraceptive pill) cavorting in the fields and woods round Durham – as the festival was the place where young miners could meet people of the opposite sex. This is contrasted with today’s festival highlighting gay rights.

Banners and brass bands at the Durham Miners Gala

There is very raw emotional coverage of the music of brass bands – which, if anything, have expanded – with bands from places like Bristol which never had a pit to the US band players– participating with bands that have survived their pit closures. And there is in an interview with a woman who still makes these huge union colliery banners and is both reviving old lost ones and making new ones.

There is also clips of current pop artists who attend the event including Billy Bragg.

The climax of the festival is a service inside Durham Cathedral with the brass bands that have marched through the streets converging on the city’s huge place of worship.

This is the film that both tells the history of a 135 year old event and captures the spirit of it today.

As the director said: “I don’t think words can do justice to such an occasion – I feel like the Gala is a living and breathing organism, something not static, but immovable – a celebration of working-class life, not just today, but almost as if it takes place in the past and future simultaneously. I suppose this film is an elaborate explanation of something wonderful and beyond words.”

The BIG MEETING. On release from September 6 and shown first in South Shields, Newcastle, Glasgow, Durham and Halifax. It is produced by the independent Shut Out The Light company

Contributors:

Contributers: Jeremy Corbyn, Dennis Skinner, Ian Lavery, Richard Burgon, Angela Rayner, DBC Pierre, John Irvin, Paul Mason, Margaret Aspinall, Selina Todd, Robert Colls, Ross Forbes, George Robson, Heather Wood, Heather Ward, Stephen Guy, Charlotte Austin, Laura Daly, Lynn Gibson, Mike Jackson & Brett Haran (LGSM), Ben Sellers, Liam Young, Emma Shankland, Robert McManners, Jake Campbell-Morris.

Exclusive: BackTo60 and Unison take 3.8 million 50s born women pension demands to Downing Street

From Left to right: Unison’s national pensions officer, Alan Fox; Jackie Jones, Labour MEP for Wales; Sian Stockham, senior vice president Unison and Gloria Mills, national secretary, equalities,Unison., knocking at Downing Street’s door.

A group of leading BackTo60 campaigners and top people from Unison, the public service union, today delivered a personal letter to Boris Johnson calling on him to act to pay out the money owed to 3.8 million women whose pensions have been delayed by up to six years.

The delegation went direct to Downing Street preceded by Larry the Cat to press Boris Johnson to fulfill a pledge that he would look again at the problem for this particular group of women, many of whom have driven to poverty by the decision enacted by successive governments.

They are backed by a petition signed by 177 MPs of all parties calling for a Special temporary measure to grant the money owed without reversing the existing pensions legislation by returning the pension age to 60 for women.

The full delegation were Prof Jackie Jones, Barrister, MEP, Wales; Gloria Mills CBE, National Secretary, UNISON, Equalities, Sian Stockham, Senior Vice-President, UNISON, Alan Fox. National Pensions Officer, UNISON, Joanne Welch, Campaign Director,BackTo60.com and Callum Jones, Undergraduate.

Prof Jones said “It’s beyond time for women to have equal rights and equal financial entitlements for years of service.  Equal pension is part of this.  No way are women going to settle for anything less.”

 Gloria Mills said”1950s women deserve their full state pension now and the government should act by using the Temporary Special Measure contained to right this wrong. UNISON the UK’s largest trade union with 1 million women members will continue to fight for pension justice for the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s many of whom are UNISON members.”.  

She added: ” The recent idea that people may have to work to 75 is a disgrace to all working people. All these women have been discriminated against all their life by not being able to claim a pension while they are working part time or bringing up a family. Their pensions pots are miniscule compared to many men.”

Jackie Jones MEP and Gloria Mills

Sian Stockham said : ” Some women who just paid the married woman’s pension have been left with the disgraceful sum of just 10p a month which is a disgrace.

Callum Jones, an undergraduate student who joined the delegation said : “It is clear to see that the government is trying to take advantage of vulnerable members of society and if we don’t look after the most vulnerable members of our society what kind of society would we have.”

Delegation including myself in front of Downing Street.

 Earlier petitions, one of which reached 728,000, were delivered to former Prime Minister, Theresa May on 3 separate occasions:  It was ignored and this led BackTo60 to succeed in getting o a Judicial Review, held on 5th and 6th June was hthe Royal Courts of Justice,t and the Reserved Judgment is due soon.

In a rather bizarre move this May WASPI Ltd, which also represents some of the women, tried to urge MPs not to sign the motion calling for the restitution of the money to the 3.8 million. They believe the women should only get a bridging loan which will have to be paid back by having reduced pensions for life.

But this action is rather late as 177 MPs have already signed and the motion was delivered to Number Ten demanding full restitution today.

This is the Waspi Ltd statement re the EDM sponsored by Ann McMorrin MP for BackTo60
Larry The Cat