More than 40 schools across Brighton and Hove were closed on Thursday and Friday of last week as around 700 teaching assistants from the Unison and GMB unions struck over low pay.
Around 700 people marched through the city, before returning to lobby a council meeting in the afternoon.
The council had claimed it would cost £700,000 to meet the pay claim, but on the same day awarded themselves £800,000 in bonuses and expenses.
Denise, a teaching assistant for ten years, explained that after seven years of negotiations Brighton and Hove City Council announced that the workforce would in future only be paid for 44 weeks a year.
This would wipe out any pay increase achieved through regrading, maintaining average take-home earnings of just £9,000 a year.
The significance of the dispute was highlighted by Jon Rogers, the United Left candidate for Unison general secretary, whose daughter attends one of the affected schools.
He said, “This will set the tone for towns and cities across the country. The key will be in sustaining the action beyond the two days, and turning undoubted sympathy into support for the wider argument.”
Another strike is planned for Thursday and Friday next week.
Support among parents has been very strong, despite a letter to them from David Hawker, the council’s director of schools. It attempted to pass off the dispute as the work of union officials.
Denis, a parent, said, “I have a ten year old daughter, and it’s disgusting the council can’t give teaching assistants the money they deserve for what is very important work.”
Both Unison general secretary Dave Prentis and his GMB counterpart, Kevin Curran, have pledged full support for continued strike action. Unison’s South East Region has committed £10,000 to the hardship funds.
Solidarity greetings were received from a conference of teaching assistants in Birmingham, and NUT teachers’ union branches as far afield as Leeds.
Send messages of support and donations to Brighton and Hove Unison, Town Hall, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1JA.