EVERY TEACHER will get a support worker. It sounds like a headline to please parents, teachers and classroom assistants throughout Britain. This is what New Labour announced while Estelle Morris was still the education minister.
In reality the government wants to solve the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention on the cheap. Classroom assistants, who are also called learning support assistants, play a vital role in many classrooms.
They often work with vulnerable and needy children for extremely low pay - as little as £5 an hour in some areas. They have a 39-week contract which means they are not paid in the holidays.
They complement the work of teachers but play a different role. They deserve much better rates of pay, a regular programme of training, non contact time and full time contracts with holiday pay. However, the government is proposing to link only minor improvements in their pay and conditions with tough demands.
Support assistants will have to cover lessons for absent teachers, and teach whole classes from the plans of a teacher who may be next door teaching another 30 pupils themselves.
This is a recipe both for undermining teachers' pay and conditions, and for putting enormous demands on unqualified and underpaid staff. The support assistants at the school we teach in are a fantastic resource and highly valued.
The NUT group collected £200 solidarity money for their recent strike and refused to cross the Unison picket line in May. The support assistants who wish to become teachers should be given the opportunity to study and train with decent bursaries - not the lousy £6,000 currently on offer.
The vast majority who want to develop their current role should be given the status they deserve without being cynically used to cover shortages. We must demand that children are taught by fully trained teachers with fully trained and rewarded support assistants in the classroom as well.
Moira Nolan, teacher, and Lee Franklin, classroom assistant, London
Firefighters can boost battle for public services
ALONG WITH other members of my Unison union branch I attended the 150-strong London Public Sector Alliance meeting in support of the firefighters. It was fantastic to see the level of support that the FBU has in London. Tube workers, post workers, council workers, teachers, lecturers and college workers were among those there, along with their union leaders from London.
Each contribution that was made talked about the need to be ready to deliver real solidarity action and support for the firefighters. I spoke about how my branch were meeting with management to talk about health and safety. I also talked about how myself and another steward had gone into the local fire station and 'adopted' them.
This means we are preparing to collect money and raise wider solidarity for them. I invited them to come to our picket line when we strike on 14 November over London weighting allowance. I got a fantastic response from the station. Everyone can walk into a station and adopt one.
Unity is key. We can show our support for the firefighters and at the same time link their struggle into a real public sector fightback. Together we can turn back the clock on New Labour and the employers.
Sam Birnie, assistant branch secretary London Metropolitan University Unison (city campus)
No rescue for Blair
NEW LABOUR ministers who recently awarded themselves a 40 percent pay rise are squaring up for a fight with firefighters. These same ministers are preparing to spend many millions of pounds backing George Bush's war on Iraq.
It seems that there is money to start fires and kill innocent civilians in Iraq but no money to pay the people who put out fires and save lives in Britain. Tony Blair prides himself on being a democrat. But a majority of people in this country support the firefighters and oppose an attack on Iraq.
The current anger at New Labour is spilling over from issues such as Iraq and the political fund in the unions into the electoral arena. Opinion polls show that the Scottish Socialist Party could win five or six seats in the Scottish Parliament next year.
Paul Foot, the Socialist Alliance candidate in the Hackney mayoral race, in the first round got nearly one third of what Labour got. He came third, beating the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. It is time New Labour recognised that it does not own working class opinion in this country.
Steve Godward, FBU member and Socialist Alliance national vice-chair
Foot's link to real concerns
SOCIALIST Alliance activists have now fought three elections in Hackney within the space of 15 months. The rewards of our work were obvious in the mayoral campaign. These were the number of new people wanting to assist and the number of window stickers put up by people we hadn't previously known.
People we met at railway stations, schools and stalls were eager to talk or take the broadsheet we produced. This included many young people. At a hustings of 200 people it was clear that an increasing number of local people are engaged in campaigns against cuts, privatisations and sell-offs. They gave Labour a hard time.
It was obvious that Paul Foot, who had visited many of the groups, was more in touch with their concerns than the Labour candidate. Another highlight of the campaign was when the local firefighters came out to cheer our battle bus.
The number of local Unison members wearing 'Foot for mayor' badges showed increasing support from local trade unionists. Nevertheless, we have a long way to go. We need sustained work in local campaigns as well as trade unions to prove that we are a credible alternative to Labour.
Polly Matcham, Hackney Socialist Alliance (personal capacity)
Send us photos
EVERY READER of Socialist Worker can send in a photo with reports of the campaigns they are involved in. You don't need top range equipment, and anyone can do it. The vast majority of high street film developers will now put your photos on CD-ROM.
This means that you have your photos as high resolution JPEG files, the format you need to e-mail, and good enough to print. These CD-ROMS come with a load program, and with access to a PC you can have them e-mailed as attachments to Socialist Worker within five minutes. You can also use the photos in your leaflets and posters.
You can go global and use the JPEG format to post your pictures and reports on the open publishing Indymedia websites around the world. Isn't technology brilliant! Richard Searle, Manchester
Labour: it's sleazy going
IN 1999 there were great expectations for the new Scottish Parliament but disillusionment was soon to follow. The sleaze that characterised the last Tory government in Westminster is fast becoming the defining feature of our first ministers in Edinburgh. Henry McLeish resigned last year as New Labour's first minister after financial irregularities.
His successor, Jack McConnell, is now accused of using money from his Motherwell and Wishaw constituency development fund for his 2000 leadership campaign. McConnell is also accused of breaking the law by failing to declare the contribution.
He has tried unsuccessfully to distance himself from the scandal. Labour has now decided to order an investigation into constituency accounts nationally. Thank goodness we don't have to vote for this crew. In Scotland there is a growing electoral and campaigning alternative in the Scottish Socialist Party.
Pat Smith, Edinburgh
Mayor vote shows mood
LABOUR GOT a shock in the recent mayoral election in Mansfield. Tony Eggington got 5,951 votes overall to beat the Labour candidate by 588 votes. Eggington, a former national president of the Newsagents Federation, stood as an independent.
This was a real upset in an area that Labour has had a stranglehold over since the 1930s. We have lost industries like mining, hosiery and much of skilled manufacturing. But I think the election really shows the deep political disaffection there is with New Labour. At least half of those who voted Green couldn't even bring themselves to transfer their votes to Labour.
The turnout in the election was barely 18 percent. I know Labour councillors who didn't even put up window posters for Labour. One told me, 'Why should people vote Labour when they have lost all contact with their roots?'
Danny Phillips, Mansfield
THE NEW film by Mike Leigh called All or Nothing seems to be getting a knocking from all quarters. Mark Harvey's review (Socialist Worker, 19 October) gave the impression that apart from one strong character the film was entirely negative. I disagree, even if admittedly a lot of the positive aspects did centre around the family, especially towards the end.
The pride of Timothy Spall's character in his daughter working as a cleaner in a nursing home is only one of many moving moments.
Graham Kirkwood, South West London
I AM writing to correct an article in Inside the System (Socialist Worker, 26 October). The article said around $3 million was spent this year on the US defence department's plans for a 'pulsed energy projectile' weapon, essentially an anti-crowd laser.
In actual fact as much as $55 million may be earmarked for this project through the US special operations force, which has received increased funding because of Bush's war on terror. All figures are from New Scientist, 12 October 2002.
Damian King, Warwick University