Derby Teaching Assistant strikers, Unison members, started another ten days on strike from 6 March in response to a recently imposed 25% pay cut. This will bring the number of days they have been on strike to over 70!
Unison have continued to make clear their desire for a moderate and “amicable” settlement. But it was the Labour Council that pulled out of talks in June 2016. The pay cuts makes such a settlement even less likely. Talks with ACAS are currently being held. Council Leader Ranjait Banwait walked out of these, claiming another appointment. The appointment turned out to be an interview with the local TV. Before the ACAS talks were even a fraction through their business, Banwait publicly and provocatively accused Unison of playing games.
The Derby TAs’ own leaders have maintained a vigorous, positive but uncompromising stance to the local council. One positive development is the Labour Party’s candidate in a city council by-election in Derwent ward has come out in support of the strikers. Derby TA members met Nadine Peatfield and offered to support her election campaign with both people on the ground and leaflets. But they knew their members would not engage with any council election campaign whilst the Council Leader was denouncing them unless Peatfield supported them. which she subsequently did.
Whether Unison will be able to make a sufficient intervention in the election campaign to win the seat is uncertain. But if Labour don’t win the election — it is presently a UKIP seat — the blame for that outcome will lie with the Labour Council leaders.
Support in this difficult stage of the dispute remains strong among parents. The parents of children with special needs attended the council meeting on Wednesday 1 March. From the public gallery they booed the Council Leader and continued their protest at the Council’s confrontational stance. The Mayor then closed the meeting and called in the police to clear the gallery.
Political action and union solidarity remains crucial. There are further moves to get action from within the Labour Party in Derby. A delegation of Labour councillors and party officers came from Stoke on 2 March. The issue is being raised amongst some council Labour groups around the country. The Unison branch is sending delegates to meetings around the region and country. The issue still needs to be raised at Labour’s National Executive.
This is not only an important dispute needing practical solidarity, but is becoming a major indicator of Labour’s ability to make real its commitment to workers and to unions. There is also a need for a national union fight against these cuts. According to Unite leader Len McCluskey at a meeting in Leicester, Leicester Council may be considering a similar confrontation with its workers.
• A motion for Labour Parties is available here