The Socialist 8 January 2005
They Didn't Have To Die
Support the Brighton and Hove teaching assistants
Strike against low pay
ON 6 January, teaching assistants in Brighton and Hove were set to stage a fourth one-day strike over pay and conditions. [The strike was subsequently called off.] The previous strikes closed more than 25 schools and 9,000 pupils had to be sent home.
Sean Figg, Brighton Socialist Party
The dispute developed after the council implemented a new pay structure. The unions agreed to a new structure, in recognition of the professional work the teaching assistants do. But when the council realised this would mean increasing pay for the vast majority, they decided to add 'strings' and cut the number of weeks the workers are paid each year.
Teaching assistants are predominantly low-paid, part-time women workers, many with children of their own. Their average take-home salary is £9,000 per year.
Teaching assistants do specialised numeracy and literacy work and work intensively with children with behavioural and learning difficulties. Their invaluable role is shown by the number of schools which had to close when they were on strike.
The teaching assistants are employed by Brighton and Hove city council, who have treated them with contempt. On the first day of strike action Ken Bodfish, the New Labour council leader, condemned the strike as: 'A very selfish act'. Yet when the strike rally was going on, the council confirmed a salary of £145,000 for the council's new Chief Executive, Alan McCarthy, and voted themselves a 2.5% increase in allowances.
Brighton and Hove council is led by New Labour. The teaching assistants are represented by UNISON and the GMB unions. Their members are starting to ask why both these unions give large sums to New Labour whilst they fight a New Labour council.
The local newspaper The Argus has acted as the council's 'news-sheet'. Every article ends with the council's position that their teaching assistants are better paid than those in neighbouring authorities and that the deal will see nine out of ten better off. Neither the council nor The Argus ever quote figures when making these claims.
There is a high level of support across the city, from parents, teachers, other unions and the public generally. Pressure from below has led both UNISON and the GMB to seriously consider escalating strike action to other council workers.
Local bin workers have been threatening 'wild-cat' action since the dispute began. As Paul Maloney, GMB senior public services officer for the South East commented at a strike rally: "Laws are made to be broken".
The teaching assistants in Brighton and Hove have showed tremendous resolve and determination to win this dispute. Their actions are an inspiration to low-paid, under-valued workers across the country. The Socialist Party, locally and nationally, supports them 100%.
In this issue