Alan Docherty, Teesside Socialist Party
Durham teaching assistants (TAs) successfully took another two days of strike action on 23 and 24 November. A hundred schools were picketed. On 23 November over 1,000 teaching assistants descended on Durham with public street protests and a march. The TAs are continuing industrial action by working to their contracts.
Despite these strikes the Labour council remains adamant that it has no choice but to cut the TAs pay by 23% in order to prevent the costs of equal pay claims which they say would amount to millions of pounds and cause hundreds of redundancies. The council has been employing new TAs on the reduced contracts since June 2016 and it boasts that it has had no problems filling these posts.
The council has now agreed to meet with Unison who have made it clear that Durham council must commit to meaningful negotiations and abandon its plans to sack and re-engage the TAs, before it will cease industrial action. Further strikes have been announced for 1, 6, 7, and 8 December.
The TAs have received massive public support which has been carried over into the Labour Party. Despite attempts by the council’s Labour group to suppress debate, Durham City Labour Party has unanimously passed, at an all member meeting, a motion in support of the Durham TAs.
It asks Durham council to seek a solution to the dispute which involves a pause to the threat of dismissal and a collective regrading where no TAs are left in a worse financial position.
Similar motions have been passed by other Labour Party branches and constituency Labour parties. It is still not clear what the official negotiating position of Unison is.
There appears to be a reluctance to press for the reopening of job evaluation to regrade the TAs because of an acceptance of the council’s negotiating position of a fear that increased salary costs could result in job and service cuts elsewhere.
Despite Tory central government cuts, Durham council is running a budget surplus this year of over £2 million and has useable reserves in the region of £300 million. The council can afford to pay the TAs more. It should not be accepting Tory austerity to bash the workforce, but instead be fighting the government to demand adequate funding for local services.