Teaching assistants (TAs) have rejected the latest offer from Labour-run Durham County Council.
The deal would have seen 472—22 percent—of TAs worse off, some by around £4,000 a year. It was thrown out by the majority Unison union members, and ATL union members also rejected the offer.
Durham TAs are proud that solidarity has won through. Socialist Worker spoke to some of them about the vote and what comes next.
“We’ve shown that we will stand firm and stick by the belief that if one loses we all lose,” said Lisa. Anne agreed and said the vote was a display of “true solidarity”.
Caroline explained, “We have built our campaign on solidarity. An offer that is not better for all is not a better offer.” Megan said the result also reflects “concerns we have about the underlying grading structure and the problems this is causing now and will cause in the future”.
The TAs’ rank and file committee called on Unison not to ballot on the divisive offer but the union pressed ahead regardless. The committee called a mass meeting and urged rejection of the offer.
It’s not the first time the rank and file has overturned the local and regional leadership.
Claire said, “This is our one chance to get it right and we’ll keep fighting until it is.”
The result is an embarrassment for Unison general secretary Dave Prentis who told his annual conference two weeks ago the dispute had “ended”. He has since told the union’s executive that he would speak to TAs about what they wanted to do next if they rejected the deal.
That would be a good start but surely he must be wondering why his regional secretary appears so out of touch with the majority of members.
Now is the time for TAs to press their demands.
Many feel there has been progress made through talks but as Gillian put it the next offer must be “suitable to all”. Trish argued that a return to negotiations “must be more open this time. No more confidentiality clauses keeping people involved in the dark.”
She added that TAs should see the scores used to regrade people “in order to challenge blatant discrepancies”. Lisa agreed, “There needs to be more transparency—talk to us, not about us.
“TAs must be involved in the negotiations. I also feel members need to meet the union again in an honest and open forum regardless of how uncomfortable it may be for some.”
Union officials have to start listening to the TAs who have organised the resistance to the council’s pay attacks. It is they who have galvanised the collective strength and, crucially, pushed the council to suspend the threat to sack them all after the four days of strikes last year.
Gillian said, “Durham council must have seen the public support for us during the Miners’ Gala last Saturday, we’re not going away and if forced to strike again we will.”