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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 March 2001

Victory for term-time workers

FOLLOWING A marvellous campaign sustained over two years, the Northern Ireland term-time workers have won an historic victory.

Mike Forster Joint Chief Education Steward, UNISON (personal capacity)

Led by public service union NIPSA (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance) 517 branch, which has recruited new members hand over fist, these mainly women workers have forced management to concede a deal worth around 5 million for 5,000 workers.

Prior to this deal, these workers were only paid for nine months of the year. Over the summer holidays, they were left with no wages for nine weeks. At the same time, the job has become increasingly complex with greater responsibilities being heaped onto their shoulders.

Last week, the Education and Library Board made an offer which has been endorsed by mass meetings of the workers throughout the North. The deal includes; guaranteed 52-week contracts for all workers from 1 April 2001 and the scrapping of all temporary contracts, with all staff transferring over to permanent contracts, again from 1 April 2001.

Classroom Support Assistants are some of the worst paid workers in our schools, and have some of the most insecure conditions.

If a pupil leaves a school, it is not uncommon for the support assistant to have their contract terminated at the same time.

This unique deal will give heart to support assistants all over the UK that their appalling conditions are about to change. But it has not been won without a huge struggle.

A highly effective campaign of action galvanised hundreds of women into trade union activity for the first time.

Initially, the women took to the streets, collecting over 22,000 signatures. An effective publicity machine swung into action, with the union winning the sympathy of most of the national daily papers.

The women then turned their attention to the politicians, firstly writing to every councillor, MP and NI Assembly Member with three separate lobbies of more than 200 plus people each time turning out to the new Stormont Assembly.

The first offer from management proved to be an insult, which in effect attempted to buy off these workers with a one-off payment. Mass meetings turned down the offer and instead voted for a ballot for industrial action.

The ballots were turning in massive majorities for a rolling programme of strike action. An emergency debate took place in the Assembly to try and head off a province-wide school strike.

Sensing huge popular support for the women, all but a rump of Sinn Fein politicians voted to award permanent 52 - week contracts to all support assistants.

Shamefully, Education Minister Martin McGuinness voted against the resolution.

That earned Mr McGuinness the Socialist Party's 'Scrooge of the Year' Award which was publicly presented to him in a blaze of publicity just before Christmas.

Management waved the white flag in January, sealing the deal by mid-February. The official "sign-off" of the settlement is on 5 March. This will lift the hopes of low-paid women workers all over Britain.

The campaign would not have been won without the firm and determined Socialist Party leadership of NIPSA.

This victory is linked to the sweeping gains which the Left has won in the General Council elections for NIPSA. It could usher in a new period of trade union militancy in the north, which will help cut across sectarianism that has recently raised its ugly head.

It will also give heart to those support workers in England and Wales who have clinched local deals to improve their pay and conditions.

In Kirklees we have won a deal which has raised pay by an average of 100-150 a month, following a similar campaign of petitioning and lobbying.

A national campaign is now planned to secure 52-week contracts, similar to the Northern Ireland victory. A debate will take place at this year's UNISON conference and a national conference of support assistants, organised by UNISON, is due this autumn.

Socialist Party members will do their utmost to ensure a repetition of the Northern Ireland agreement.

Such a campaign will severely test Blair's commitment to 'education and equality of opportunity' in the event of a Labour election victory.

The leadership of NIPSA 517 are to produce a Socialist Party bulletin on the campaign and have offered solidarity and help towards our fight to secure justice for term time workers.

"THE SETTLEMENT worth 5 million is a tremendous victory for a group of low paid workers after a 20 month-long struggle.

Many members expressed the view that this victory was down to the campaigning strategy of the branch leadership.

We hope our success is a spur to our fellow workers in Scotland, England and Wales to achieve the gains in pay and conditions that they too deserve."

Brian Booth, NIPSA branch 517 and Socialist Party member

FORTY PEOPLE, including young people new to socialist ideas, attended a Socialist Party meeting in Belfast. Afterwards three people expressed an interest in wanting to join the party.

Gary Mulcahy

At the meeting they heard from a number of speakers about recent working-class struggles both in Ireland and internationally.

Kevin Lawrenson, recently elected to the General Council of NIPSA, spoke about developments in in the trade unions - notably the recent term-time workers and social workers struggles and particularly the shift to the Left in NIPSA.

Peter Taaffe, general secretary Socialist Party Wales and England, illuminated the crisis affecting the world capitalist economy and linked a perspective of new workers' struggles to the building of the party.

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In The Socialist 2 March 2001:

Cough Up The Cash Gordon


Plain sailing for Blair?

Foot and mouth disease: another crisis for agribusiness

Victory for term-time workers

The decline of Britain's manufacturing industry

Preston councillor joins Socialist Party

Militancy and solidarity can win


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