Socialist Worker

Unison union leaders let down the lions of Durham in TA dispute

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2576

Teaching assistants fought a heroic campaign

Teaching assistants fought a heroic campaign (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Durham teaching assistants (TAs) in the Unison union have voted to accept a pay offer from the Labour-run council.

The TAs fought an impressive two year-long battle against pay cuts and increased working hours.

The deal means that 472 TAs will still lose pay. Others will keep the same pay but have to work more.

There will also be a “progression board”, where TAs will be able to apply individually for pay regrading.

Many TAs have voiced outrage about the deal, including Lisa, who spoke to Socialist Worker.

“The progression board is a vague promise,” she said. “In theory it’s to help the TAs, but the people sitting on it will be those who think this deal is fair. Board members should be voted on by all the Durham TAs.”

The majority of TAs are members of Unison, which strongly recommended accepting the deal.

A minority of the workforce, who are in the ATL section of the NEU education union, voted by 56 percent to reject.

Unison hasn’t released the figures for the vote—and many TAs are unhappy with the role the union played in the dispute.

Lisa said, “We’ve all stood together and if some are still getting a pay cut that’s not good enough.”

Pressure 

Unison had to be pushed into a fight against the pay cuts. This dispute would not have happened without huge pressure from rank and file TAs themselves.

The TAs had successful strikes and won widespread support throughout their prolonged dispute.

They forced the council to withdraw a sacking threat.

We won
'We won't be bullied'—meet the women standing up to Labour in County Durham
  Read More

The unions should have built on this momentum to fight the council, continue the campaign and keep up strikes.

Instead, the council and Unison strung out the talks and then used their resources to campaign for acceptance of a deal that attacks workers.

Durham County Council is run by Labour.

The left wing Labour leadership including Jeremy Corbyn should have mounted pressure on councillors to help get victory for the TAs.

Lisa said, “I’m heartbroken by the result—but I can look anyone in the eye and say that I’ve fought.”


The Unison union launched a consultative ballot of TAs in Derby last week. It is over working hours and the re-grading of TAs who work in special educational needs.

TAs in Derby had their pay cut by 25 percent in summer 2016.

They resolved their dispute with Labour-run Derby council in March, but workers say the deal hasn’t been implemented.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.