Socialist Worker

Durham teaching assistants resist pay cut - and prepare to strike

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2528

The Durham TAs protested outside County Hall throughout half term

The Durham TAs protested outside County Hall throughout half term (Pic: Durham Teaching Assistants Value Us campaign)


Teaching assistants (TAs) in County Durham were set to strike next Tuesday and Wednesday. It will be their first walkout in a long-running dispute with the Labour council over a huge pay cut.

Some 2,700 teaching assistants are to be sacked and rehired on worse contracts that will cut their pay by up to 23 percent.

The council claims that slashing thousands of pounds from their pay is all about equality.

TAs in the Unison and ATL unions will join the walkout.

Unison rep and rank and file TA committee member Megan told Socialist Worker, “We’re determined to make sure our strike is as strong as possible. We are clear—we want regraded with no loss of pay. Nothing less.”

Hundreds of TAs took part in a week-long protest during half-term outside Durham’s County Hall, with a small presence each day in the build up to a massive protest last Friday.

“It was fantastic,” said Megan. “People that hadn’t been involved so much took part. Some even ended up being out there every day.”

Rejection

A minority of the TAs are members of the GMB union. They voted by a narrow margin to accept the deal after the union leadership failed to argue strongly for rejection.

But its membership is tiny and the vast majority of TAs are part of the industrial action.

Many are looking for the unions to quickly escalate to longer strikes.

Their dispute is also a hangover from the 1997 agreement between local government employers and public sector unions, known as Single Status. Then, as now, council chiefs tried to attach progressive ideals to their cuts agenda.

Meanwhile in an almost carbon copy dispute with the Labour-run Derby City Council, Unison has suspended industrial action as a “gesture of goodwill” for talks with management.

TAs in Derby saw a new contract imposed in the summer, leading to drastic pay cuts of 25 percent.

Mistake

But it is a mistake to call off action without any concrete offer acceptable to the workers whose livelihoods are on the line.

It risks demoralising people, losing momentum and weakening the fight.

Union leaders should also grasp the bigger picture. The Tory government is in trouble over education.

Last week Tory education secretary Justine Greening announced that her Education for All Bill has been dropped. Greening hoped the attempt to bury bad news would go unnoticed.

Now is the time for Labour to step up its attacks on the Tories, not low paid teaching assistants.

For messages of solidarity, details of how to donate to the fighting fund and requests for a speaker to address your union branch meeting email spartacusannie@gmail.com

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