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From The Socialist newspaper, 4 October 2007

Northern Ireland

Classroom assistants on strike

OVER 2,000 classroom assistants took part in a solid one-day strike across Northern Ireland on 26 September against a pay cut and attacks on working conditions. They came out again on 2 October, starting a three-day strike.

Gary Mulcahy Socialist Party Belfast

The Northern Ireland Assembly Minister for Education's 'offer' in June reduced classroom assistants' pay by up to 18% through lengthening the working week from 32.5 hours to 36 hours and by removing the Special Needs Allowance. This forced classroom assistants in the NIPSA union to vote 93% for taking strike action leading to all-out strike.

Parents support the classroom assistants. They are furious that workers who play such a role in the development of special needs children have been treated this way for 13 years. Over 1,000 striking classroom assistants marched through Belfast city centre demanding payment for 13 years of unpaid pay increases and an end to attacks on their working conditions.

The solid strike forced the Minister to make a pathetic offer which would see classroom assistants receive a one-off average payment of 2,000, on condition that they accept a longer working week and the removal of the Special Needs Allowance. This would mean that whatever one-off payment is paid would be wiped out after 12 months, leaving classroom assistants with worse pay and conditions than before.

Since the ballot, NIPSA have recruited 900 extra classroom assistants, a 37.5% increase. The latest Assembly Executive offer will probably be rejected. After the three day strike, if a resolution is not reached all-out strike action will commence from 8 October.

With the Northern Ireland Assembly about to begin to impose its neoliberal Programme for Government, this strike of mostly underpaid women workers from Catholic and Protestant backgrounds is extremely important. It shows the need for an independent working-class, socialist party which can politically represent the interests of workers in the north of Ireland.

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