Socialist Worker

First they poisoned us... Now they want our pensions

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1912

MARTIN IS one of up to 40,000 people who heard last week that their pensions could be snatched away from them.

Martin Wilson is no ordinary employee. His pension comes from Turner & Newall, the company that grew fat dealing in one of the most deadly industrial substances ever produced—asbestos.

It made profits year after year while its workers suffered agonising deaths.

“First they poisoned us, now they are threatening to take away our pensions,” says Martin.

This scandal underlines the scale of the great pensions robbery sweeping through Britain. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80—you could be the next target for the pension thieves who live in the boardrooms and government ministries.

Millions of workers are seeing their pensions stolen from them by bosses who want to channel the money into profits.

People who believed they could look forward to a relatively secure old age are pitched into relying on the state pension—a passport to poverty.

Trevor Trimmer worked at Ferodo, a Turner & Newall subsidiary in Chapel-en-le-Frith, for 35 years.

He's now 71 and suffering from pleural plaque, which has left a shadow on his lung and greatly restricts his life.

“ I was a relief operative,” Trevor told Socialist Worker, “someone who could be asked to fill in at any job.

“One job was tipping bags of raw asbestos into a hopper for mixing.

“There were fibres flying around, incredibly bad for your health.

“It angers me that we were allowed to go on working in this way even after the company knew it was dangerous.

“They stopped using asbestos in car brake linings because auto manufacturers realised that there would be claims made against them.

“But management told us that it was simply that the customer had chosen a better product. So we were left to keep working on asbestos for the brake blocks on the London Underground, for example.

“I’ve had no compensation at all. And there are many Turner & Newall employees who are even worse off than me—they have cancer.

“That’s why it’s so shocking and frightening to have our pensions under threat. I rely on the money I get and so do many others. It’s difficult enough as it is without us having the worry now and perhaps a big cut in our standard of living soon.

“ It’s a disgrace that financiers can try to make this happen and that the law lets it happen.”

Federal Mogul, the US company which took over Turner & Newall, has been under special financial measures since 2001 because of the scale of the asbestos compensation claims against it.

Now the administrators who direct the company’s affairs are trying to pay the bills by raiding the pension fund.

This could only happen to workers in Britain, where pension protection is weaker than in almost any other developed country.

New Labour has let bosses tear through pension schemes, enjoying long “pension holidays” when the stockmarket was booming and then cracking down on payments to workers when the market falls.

Even worse, some workers have seen all their money robbed. The government’s pathetically inadequate compensation scheme is a straw before a torrent.

And at last weekend’s Labour National Policy Forum Blair spurned union demands for real pension improvements.

In Blair’s Britain the legacy from one of the filthiest firms ever to exist is shattered lives and stolen pensions—and a Labour government lets it happen in the name of “freeing up business”.

The union leaders should be fighting to win over the Turner & Newall scandal and all the other assaults on pensions.

A good start would be for them all to get behind the PCS civil service workers’ union. Pensions is a key issue in their present battle.

And the bosses are after YOUR pension too

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Article information

Sat 31 Jul 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1912
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