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Brighton teaching assistants fight council attacks
BY STRIKING on 25-26 November, teaching assistants (TAs) across Brighton and Hove showed their willingness to fight the council to receive a fair and decent salary.
Phil Clarke, NUT and Kevin Dale
These low-paid workers, mainly women, carry out invaluable work in the classroom. They often support children with special educational or behavioural needs, all for an average annual salary of £9,000.
The dispute is over the council's decision, while offering a small pay increase, to take away five to seven of the TAs' paid weeks a year, leaving a derisory pay 'rise' of around £26 a year.
The council also tried to buy off the TAs with a £400 one-off payment, which was defiantly rejected. The councillors then voted though a healthy rise in their own allowances, which only increased anger against them.
TAs within UNISON and the GMB voted overwhelmingly for action. In fact, out of 324 UNISON TAs in the city, only three voted against the strike. Action by more than 700 TAs closed over 30 schools across the city. Despite the disruption and the council labelling the TA's 'selfish', support from parents and the public has been solid.
The local paper's text-in poll returned 91% in support of the strike and Socialist Party stalls in the town have had queues of local people lining up to show their solidarity.
On 25 November, TAs marched across the city to a demonstration outside the town hall, then on to a rally of over 400. Messages of support were received from across Britain as other TAs look to Brighton to take the lead. Alex Knutson, Unison branch secretary told the rally: "The turnout has been incredible and we have been so impressed by the support on picket lines outside schools".
Many NUT members refused to cross picket lines and local refuse workers threatened wildcat supporting strikes of their own, all angry with a council that pays its chief executive £145,000 a year but says there's no money left to pay TAs a living wage.
As TA strikes threaten to spread across the country, the Socialist Party argues for a one-day public sector strike to fight the government's cuts and privatisation agenda. We also fight for a new party to represent the mass of working people who will suffer under the neo-liberal polices of all of the three main parties, no matter which of them wins the next general election.
The next two 24-hour stoppages, will be held on 10 December and 6 January.