Durham teaching assistants' (TAs) revolt against the Labour county council's assault on their pay is growing.
Some 2,000 TAs in the Unison and ATL unions began a second 48-hour walkout yesterday, Wednesday. They did the same two weeks ago and mounted 80 picket lines—this time it was over 100.
In many areas after picketing, TAs from different schools held noisy protests at busy road junctions to raise the profile of their dispute in local areas.
In Consett up to 100 strikers chanted and sang while passing drivers tooted their approval.
One driving instructor handed over solidarity chocolate, and an angry Labour Party member donated £50 to the fighting fund. Staff at a nearby bakery chain sent boxes of mince pies in support.
TAs and parents spoke to Socialist Worker about the strike.
Helen said, “Some parents can't believe that we're being asked to work 4.5 hours more a week to only have our pay cut by 10 percent. But for those who can't work more it means a 23 percent cut.”
Teaching assistant Barbara said that one despicable council HR manager told TAs in her school that if they had a problem with the pay cut then they could visit the council welfare department or a food bank.
The council's propaganda department has gone on the offensive this week. But for all its efforts parents back the TAs.
Katherine refused to allow her child to cross the picket line at one school this morning. She said, “This is just cost-cutting by the council. From a parent's point of view the TAs should be paid more.”
At The Grove primary school parents had to pick their children up early as the school couldn't stay open. Mark has three children there and said every parent he knows, like himself, support the TAs.
He said, “I'm all for the strike—would you just accept more work for less money? Our kids don't see a difference between teaching assistants and teachers and neither do we, they're all teaching our children.”
Parent Danielle said, “I don't see why TAs should be picked on for the council's mistakes and mismanagement.”
Another parent thought the council wanted “education on the cheap” and that although “the strike meant the kids will suffer, you can't blame the TAs for that”.
Jenni, a TA of 10 years, said Labour councillors' attack was “soul-destroying”.
She said, “We work hard and aren't paid much as it is. We don't just wash paint pots, we look after children's education, their emotional well-being, everything.
“To be told you're not worth the money you're earning is just totally wrong.”
The head of early years at one school, and a member of the NASUWT teachers' union, said the pay cut was "horrendous".
"I couldn't survive if they did that to my wage," she said. "TAs are completely undervalued but absolutely vital—we couldn't function without them. Don't give up the fight, we support you 100 percent.”
TA Donna is a single parent bringing up two children. But councillors think she can do without nearly £4,000 a year. She explained a dilemma that she is certainly not alone in.
“If I work more hours that means I need more child care, which means needing more money."
She added, “We'd rather be in school. There isn't a TA that does this job for the money but because we love the job.
“We're always in early, leaving late and we take work home every night because we want the best for the kids.”
TA Diane agreed and was furious with councillors. “We didn't start this, they did. If you're told your contract is worthless there's rightly uproar.
More strikes are expected next week. Donna said, “They thought we'd just roll over and not bat an eyelid. But we're going to keep going and are absolutely prepared to escalate the strikes."