A revolt by County Durham teaching assistants (TAs) is dividing the Labour Party. The TAs were set to walk out for their second 48-hour strike on Wednesday.
When 57 Labour councillors voted through 23 percent pay cuts two months ago they must have felt confident there would be no kickback. But the dispute between council leaders and TAs reveals the tensions within Labour since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.
“At the heart of this dispute are people who represent Corbyn's Labour values and a Labour-controlled council that thinks it is untouchable,” TA Helen told Socialist Worker.
“For too long councillors have got away with doing exactly what they please and they thought this was a done deal with us. They didn't expect the fight.”
Workers’ first strike two weeks ago saw around 130 schools closed or severely disrupted. The Unison and ATL union members mounted over 80 picket lines across the county.
Parents have made it clear they are on the TAs’ side. And discontent is rumbling in Labour.
Darlington South Central Labour Party has voted unanimously to back the TAs, while other Labour groups have invited TAs to speak at their meetings.
Desperate councillors are now trying to block debate on the TAs’ dispute at party meetings.
Lisa, a member of the TAs’ rank and file committee, has spoken at local Labour meetings. She said there was “disbelief” and “shame” at what councillors are doing in their name.
Just 57 out of a total of 126 councillors in Durham voted through the attack. Some 40 Labour councillors didn’t vote. Helen said, “Those who didn't turn up to vote clearly wanted to distance themselves from it.” She said that some councillors were just “doing as they are told”.
It’s time these councillors spoke out. Jeremy Corbyn rightly backed the TAs at this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala. He publicly told councillors, “Get it sorted.”
“That was a turning point for us,” TA Megan told Socialist Worker. “We’d love to see him come back up and join us on a strike day to help us get this sorted once and for all.”
The councillors imposing Tory austerity are oblivious to the damage they are doing to Labour. The May 2017 council elections could deliver a stinging rebuke.
Over £270 million of usable reserves exist at County Hall. Meanwhile council chiefs are considering outsourcing services and slashing 2,000 posts—while pretending that the TAs’ pay cut isn’t about austerity.
Teaching assistants have the power to push back the councillors taking an axe to their living standards. Jeremy Corbyn needs to show which side he’s on.