Supporting the Durham TAs, October 2016, photo by E Brunskill

Supporting the Durham TAs, October 2016, photo by E Brunskill   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Durham teaching assistants stage vigil and rally

Elaine Brunskill

Around 400 very noisy TAs (teaching assistants) staged a protest outside Durham County Hall. Every car, bus and lorry that passed them blasted its horn in support.

Across the north east there is growing anger against Durham’s Labour-controlled council which is planning to sack 2,700 TAs, then rehire them on 23% less pay.

In a recent ballot 93% of the TAs voted in favour of strike action.

Commenting on this vote Jan Clymo said: “I’ve worked for the county for 27 years. I don’t want to strike, but I feel we’ve been pushed into a corner where we don’t have any choice. The mood today is excellent. We’re getting excellent solidarity from the public. We’ve been outside County Hall all this week. After a silent vigil lasting four days, today’s a noisy rally, showing we are not going away!”

Megan Charlton, secretary of County Durham TAs activist committee, told us: “Durham TAs are among the lowest paid in the country – even before this pay cut.” Durham council is blaming ‘single status’ legislation for this attack. However Megan pointed out that the council could regrade TAs in order to get around this legislation.

There is also huge frustration at Unison. There is a mood that alongside fighting against Labour councillors, TAs are also having to do battle with their own union. The last TA meeting was organised by Unison but TAs commented that it “felt like a hostile takeover bid”. Unlike previous meetings, which were organised by the TAs, Unison gave no time for questions from the floor. Also, Unison does not recognise the TAs’ organising committee.

It is crucial that alongside the rank-and-file organising committee, TAs put pressure on the union – ensure that Unison is responsive to their wishes. This could include getting other Unison branches to put pressure on the union.

This workforce, predominantly women, is clearly prepared to fight. Lisa Turnbull commented: “For us it doesn’t matter how many times Durham City Council try to knock us down – we will come back fighting!”

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 1 November 2016 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.