Around 150 teaching assistants (TAs) descended on Derby Council’s head office on Tuesday blowing whistles, ringing bells and waving flags and placards.
It was their latest 24-hour strike with another set to follow on Thursday in a long-running dispute against a pay cut of up to 25 percent.
The Labour-run council imposed a new contract on workers last year. It sees them only paid for term times—yet they have to survive all year.
This has cost Marjorie, for example, £320 a month. After ten years as a TA, she’s down to a wage of only around £10,000 a year—despite working 32 hours a week.
“They’ve taken our money and our dignity,” she told Socialist Worker. “The council chose to cut our pay. I can’t even afford childcare.”
Councillors say the pay cut is necessary for “fairness and equality”. It echoes a similar claim from Durham council to justify its attack on TAs’ pay. It’s patently the opposite—and TAs are winning support in their fight to lift it.
More than 100 angry parents led a noisy protest inside the council building last Wednesday. Many chanted for the council leader to go.
Labour councillor Dom Anderson spoke out after running a gauntlet of hundreds of TAs outside.
He said, “I didn't become a Labour councillor to see low paid people struggle. There is no simple answer but a solution must be found and I am willing to do anything it takes to help that happen.”
And Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told ITV last week, “I’m on the side of the teaching assistants and the pupils and the parents. Let’s get together and sort it out quickly.”
But for Marjorie, Corbyn could put more pressure on council chiefs in his own party to stop the attacks.
“Why have the senior council chiefs had a pay rise but they’re cutting our pay?” she asked.
The workers’ Unison union has belatedly thrown its weight behind the fight in Derby. General secretary Dave Prentis visited last week to launch a union ad van explaining the scale of the pay cut and asking people, “Could you cope?”
But this contrasts sharply with the experience of Unison activists at other councils run or led by Labour (see right).
It took rank and file organisation to push the union into action in Durham. Now Derby shows that union leaders are under pressure from workers sick of cuts.
Unison won’t let us out to strike in Kirklees
A union official “shamelessly suspended” a strike by social workers in children’s services at Kirklees Council, West Yorkshire, planned for last Friday.
Unison regional head of local government Steve Torrance did not even speak with Kirklees Unison branch first.
One activist told Socialist Worker, “As workers met to discuss the strike last Tuesday we received copies of an email exchange between Torrance and the council chief executive.
“The council offered to extend the legal period of the ballot to 6 March in return for suspending the strike. Torrance agreed— without any consultation with the branch or members.”
Torrance then attended talks concluding with a promise of three months of negotiations.
Workers were due to meet to discuss the outcome of the talks. But Torrance informed the council that Unison agreed to the proposal.
Workers voted by 46 votes to 1 to reject the proposal and called for the action to be reinstated.
The officials’ eventual response, four days later, refused to put the action back on until new talks have been exhausted.
Kirklees Unison is appealing to the union’s Industrial Action Committee.
“Despite the actions of the official, the resolve of the members to fight for a proper deal is as strong as ever,” the activist said.