Two thousand teaching assistants (TAs) walked out of schools across County Durham on Tuesday for the first day of their 48-hour strike against huge pay cuts.
The Unison and ATL union members’ action closed or severely disrupted around 100 schools.
“Even those schools that opened cancelled sporting events, maths and literacy,” striking TA Jan told Socialist Worker.
Workers are determined to push back the Labour council’s plan to sack them on 31 December and rehire them the next day on worse contracts.
This would slash their pay by up to 23 percent.
TA Lisa told Socialist Worker, “This time last year—on the 25th anniversary of me starting work in my school—I was told I’d be made redundant.
“On my 26th anniversary I’m out on strike.
“It’s been amazing—the school is covered in placards, flags and balloons.
“All the parents have been supportive, and teachers have stood with us on the picket line.”
Jan said ex-miners had joined her picket line. Their simple message was, “Stick it out—the solidarity is there.” Jan added, “We feel rejuvenated and raring to go.”
Children made signs in support of the TAs. School cooks, and even a head teacher at one school, brought breakfast to the pickets.
At Lanchester school, where a Labour councillor is a school governor, 50 joined the picket line to express their disgust at what the council is doing.
TA Megan told Socialist Worker, “We’ve been waiting so long for this. It has been a difficult decision but now we’re all out together we’re feeling really good.”
The Labour council has a major fight on its hands. It assumed the TAs would meekly accept the pay cut. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“The feeling is we need to strike again, sooner rather than later,” Jan said.
Lisa agreed, “TAs are very much in favour of escalating the action and moving to three days, four days a week. We don’t want to but we’ve no choice. We won’t be ignored—we’ll fight this all the way.”
Strikers were set for a central rally outside County Hall on Wednesday.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis was also set to join them.
He said the battle was “a strategic dispute with a hostile employer”.
Those words now need to be backed up with action.
Megan said TAs would be going into their union stewards’ meeting this week to “argue for more strike dates as soon as possible”.