On Saturday 25th March, up to 1000 people gathered in Durham to take part in the solidarity protest and rally organised by the Durham teaching assistants. We publish here a report and interview by the Newcastle and Durham Marxist societies about the struggle of the TAs against wage cuts.
On Saturday 25th March, up to 1000 people gathered in Durham to take part in the solidarity protest and rally organised by the Durham teaching assistants (TAs). This included hundreds of TAs themselves, along with their supporters in the wider labour and trade union movement. Banners could be seen from Unison, NUT, RMT, ATL, Momentum and other organisations as the throng of people marched from Durham’s Millennium Square to the Miners’ Hall at Redhills for a rally.
The mood amongst the crowd was jubilant and defiant as speaker after speaker made the point that the fight is not over yet.
In the Northern Echo, Anne Richardson, chair of the DCTAAC, was quoted as saying:
“Since Christmas when we went on strike and the council decided to suspend our dismissal, the public thought we had gone quiet.”
“We’re not going to go quiet until it’s a done deal.”
“A lot of the TAs have been through a lot of stress and they say they can’t sit quiet and relax until we know we’ve got a piece of paper that says, ‘I’m secure in my job’.”
As we have reported previously, 2,700 teaching assistants in County Durham had been threatened with redundancies by Durham County Council unless they take a pay cut of up to 23%. After several months of wavering by the union leadership, a grassroots campaign was built by rank and file TAs around the County Durham Teaching Assistants Action Committee. Several demonstrations were organised, and mass solidarity and support was developed amongst the community, parents, children, and in the wider labour movement. The campaign was set up to take the fight directly to the council, reflecting the genuine anger felt by TAs for being undervalued for the hard work they perform on a daily basis in schools.
After months of fighting and building momentum, Durham County Council announced in December that they would suspend the threats of redundancies and that they would restart negotiations with the unions.
This comes off the back of massive pressure being applied on the council to back down. The teaching assistants have so far been involved in four days of strike action in November and had threatened another one day strike on 1st December, followed by a three-day strike between 6-8th December. This threat of further escalating strike action proved a big turning point for the struggle.
In fact, this rank and file opposition helped stoke the flames of a rebellion in the local Labour Party itself, which might have been the nail in the coffin of Durham County Council’s original plans.
Four local Constituency Labour Parties (North West Durham, City of Durham, Darlington and Blaydon) passed motions distancing themselves from the position of Durham County Council. They called for the removal of redundancies and for the council to reopen negotiations. On 26th November last year an all members meeting was held in Durham at which not one voice could be heard in support of the council’s actions. Two further motions were passed unanimously which called for the council to remove the threat of redundancies and reopen negotiations. Pat Glass, Labour MP for North West Durham, also came out publicly against the actions of the council.
This shows how distant the DCC had become from the views and feelings of the local party and from the working class it is supposed to represent. This provided the tipping point at which the council were forced to back down.
This partial victory demonstrates the necessity of militant struggle in an era of capitalist crisis and the need to transform the Labour Party from top to bottom.
The negotiations have been ongoing since that time, involving representatives of Unison and the ATL as well, as TAs from the rank and file CDTAAC campaign. Although strike action was suspended in a show of good faith to the council, the TAs said they would be more than willing to go on strike again if negotiations were to break down or if the DCC did not show itself as being serious in addressing the concerns of the workers.
The solidarity march and rally seen last Saturday was a way to say thank you to everyone who had stood by the TAs in their struggle, as well as to show DCC that the TAs are still here and are still fighting. The Durham Lions are still roaring and are not easily going to forget the lessons they’ve learnt.
Interview with Durham TA, Lisa Turnbull
As was seen during previous actions, Durham and Newcastle Marxist Societies were invited along, and – along with comrades from the IMT – we were more than happy to answer the call and offer our solidarity.
One of our comrades was lucky enough to speak with Lisa Turnbull, who was happy to provide us with a few words about the ongoing struggle. Lisa has been one of the organisers of the Durham TAs campaign from the very beginning. We publish below the text of this interview.
Ms. Turnbull was unable to talk about what stage negotiations are in at this time due to a confidentiality agreement.
Q: What is the aim of today’s march and demo?
A: The aim is two-fold. It’s to say thank you to everybody who has supported us since we started. Like we said, it was started by one TA way, way back, and then taken on by another three of us who used to meet in Redhills having clandestine meetings with Davey Hopper about how to move things forward. So, for one, it’s to say thank you to everyone who’s supported us, and two, it’s to say to the council we are not going anywhere. We are still here. And, it’s not only us that believes in our fight; it’s all these other people that have come to march with us. So that was our primary aim.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the similar dispute being fought by TAs in Derby Council?
A: Until this happened, I’d never been in a room with this many TAs, and then we realised this was happening elsewhere. I do feel that Derby are going through an absolutely terrible time. They were made redundant and were made to claw things back. We haven’t gotten as far as redundancies. So, we’ve just said all along we will stand in solidarity with Derby, and we are so, so pleased they’ve come to stand with us today, because nobody should have gone through what we’re going through and what they’ve been through – an absolutely horrific time. So that’s why we’ll always stand shoulder to shoulder with them as well.
Q: How do you see the Durham TAs’ struggle moving forward at this point?
A: We’re hoping for a complete job review and restructure, which really is a regrade to mitigate any loss. For me, nothing is suitable until there is no TA in County Durham who will lose any money. No TA should be under the threat of losing their home and not being able to pay their mortgage. So, until then, we just keep fighting. It needs to be resolved, but it needs to be resolved properly.
Q: Do you have any final words for young people and other workers about how we can get involved and help fight in support of the TAs?
A: We’re grateful of any support. I’ve got an eighteen year-old daughter who’s about to go to uni this year, and all I’ve drummed into her is: whatever you want to do you can do, but you’ve got to fight for what you believe in. So when someone tells you “no, you can’t”, don’t just nod and say “yes, sir”, “no, sir”. You stand up and you get out there. You put your ideas forward. You make your flyers. You do your campaigning. Even if it’s just one, two, five, or seven of you, or three hundred of you, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re standing there, and you believe in what you’re doing, and you do it with conviction, then any support anybody could give to us – and what we will also pass on to others – is greatly, greatly appreciated.