A grumpy and harassed looking Ken Bodfish (OBE), Brighton and Hove Labour council leader, rushed into a council meeting on 25 November. He looked visibly shaken by the 350 teaching assistants and their supporters who had turned up to protest on the second day of their strike.
“I would like to see a proper wage that people can actually live on. I’m a single person and need tax credits to bring up my wage,” teaching assistant Diane Askew told the local paper.
The strike closed 35 schools, and the council obviously did not expect low paid women workers to show such solidarity. The strike united members of the GMB and Unison, and there is growing support from other council workers. A GMB refuse worker on the demonstration said: “Should a picket line suddenly appear outside the depot, no-one here is going to cross it.”
The GMB are considering spreading the strike. Mark Turner, a GMB official, said: “We have support nationally and we have got the funds. If there is going to be an indefinite strike, then so be it. The alternative is to escalate the issue to the entire membership on the issue of single status for all the GMB. Shop stewards in our ranks are saying if this is happening to these people, we have got to show our support.”
The strike was against council plans to cut the weeks for which teaching assistants are paid. Currently teaching assistants are paid for 49.5 weeks in most schools and 52 weeks a year in special schools. The council also propose to scrap a £1,044 special needs allowance in return for a one-off payment of just £450. These cuts are designed to grab back increases due to regrading when jobs become harder as a result of the National Remodelling Agreement.
The council want ACAS arbitration, but quite rightly the unions are refusing to be drawn into this “give and take” process. It is a disgrace that all teaching assistants are not paid for a full 52 weeks of the year.
Parents and children supported the strike, coming on the demo. A poll by the local paper showed nine out of ten people supporting the strike. The NUT backed the action and refused to do assistants’ work on the strike days. However, joint action by the NUT would have shut all schools and brought home the impact of the crap National Remodelling Agreements on teaching assistants and teachers alike.
None of the Labour councillors are supporting the strike. They will no doubt be going cap in hand to Unison and the GMB come the elections. They should be deselected and denied any support if they will not support these low paid, mostly women, workers.
Further strikes are planed for 10 December and for January. Send messages of support via Mark Bennett on 020 8971 4224 or firstname.lastname@example.org
By Mark Sandell