Brian Silver: The former union rep on running a six-year legal campaign to help Allied Steel and Wire workers secure their pensions when the company went bust.
There were 3,500 people working for the company. In the last few years, the company was making a loss. We thought it would come out the other side but one day it went into administration leaving us without jobs.
It was a sad day. People were walking around without a clue what to do. I was in my 50s at the time and finding new work was a struggle.
Despair turned to anger when we realised our pensions were gone. There wasn’t enough money left in the scheme and there was no government protection or compensation in place. Instead of our full pensions, we would receive only 16% of what we were entitled to. My £14,000 a year went down to £1,600.
With the backing of the union (Community) and supportive MPs, several of us launched a campaign to lobby the government. We wanted the government to provide protection and compensation for people whose companies went into administration. We were back and forth to London meeting MPs and going to the House of Commons.
We kept fighting. Every year the minister of state for pensions changed. We were constantly knocking on the door trying to get our message across to different people. It was frustrating.
There were times when we didn’t think we could win the case. But we were a tight-knit bunch and had been friends for many years so we kept each other strong.
We kept union members up to date. Around 700 people would turn up to meetings. Everyone was upset and angry understandably, but the union was in the firing line, not the government.
The media fuelled the situation by talking to the workers who were angry. They didn’t want to hear about the campaign and the good work we were doing, they wanted to report on the negative things that sell papers.
We took the campaign to the European Court of Justice and won. The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) and the Financial Assistant Scheme (FAS) were set up by the government. We all received 90% of our pensions.
Sadly, some members had died so they weren’t around to see the success. But for those who were it has made an enormous difference to their lives. Without the union we would all have nothing; it’s important to join them as you never know when you might need them. But it’s not just about us: the FAS and the PPF are now providing security to millions of working people across the UK.