Durham teaching assistants (TAs) have forced council bosses to retreat. But a chance for a clear cut victory was snatched away from them by union officials.
They are not beaten, just frustrated. TAs fought back against the Labour council’s threat to sack them on New Year’s Eve, rehire them the next day and cut their pay by up to 23 percent.
Protests, rallies and recent strikes have won huge support. The teaching assistants forced Unison union officials, the majority union, to back their fight.
Those same officials manoeuvred TAs away from the very action that could have secured their victory before Christmas.
Last week the council finally buckled under pressure from the TAs’ rank and file revolt and strikes, and announced a humiliating climbdown. It once wasn’t prepared to budge.
But the council has only agreed to “suspend” the sackings not withdraw them.
Lisa, a TA, is against suspending strikes for “empty words”. She said, “I’m absolutely devastated, that’s another Christmas ruined.”
She feels the TAs’ greatest strength at a crucial moment has been “undermined”. She’s right.
The TAs had bosses on the ropes. But their three-day strike, set to start on Tuesday, was called off without strikers getting a say in the matter.
Strikes this week could easily have been the tipping point that brought a complete surrender from the council.
The officials should have used the climbdown as a spur to intensify the action and win a real guarantee over jobs and pay.
TA Claire told Socialist Worker, “My emotions are mixed. I’m pleased they have agreed to get back around the table but at the same time I’m very cautious.
“I don’t trust them and feel they may be just trying to keep us quiet over the Christmas period because of the effect it’s had.
“I do hope I’m proved wrong and eventually this mess is sorted. This has gone on for too long now and I refuse to go through another year of hell.”
Megan was pleased the council had been forced to back down over the New Year’s Eve sackings and that it had “agreed to a full review of TAs’ roles and responsibilities”.
She said the TAs “will have no hesitation in striking again if the council drags its feet”.
But Trish was “disgusted” at the announcement. She said, “Durham Unison have ignored their members totally.
“Surely they should be working for their members and not the council?”
Unison also called off the ongoing work to rule. Kate was “at a loss as to why” the union did this.
She said, “It is very disappointing and I feel very let down by the union’s lack of communication.”
With the threat to their jobs, pay and conditions looming over them for the last year, some TAs have already voted with their feet. Some were even forced to sell their house.
There is a debate over strategy and how to win. TAs must draw strength from their battle so far and stay united.
Officials may have handed councillors a lifeline. But if the rank and file organise to demand accountability from their union representatives victory can still be theirs.