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Over a thousand march with Durham TAs against 23% pay cut
Elaine Brunskill, North East Socialist Party
"Who are we? Durham TAs! What do we want? Fair pay! When do we want it? Now!" The chant of the Durham teaching assistants (TAs) reverberated through the narrow streets of Durham Cathedral City on 25 March.
At least a thousand TAs and their supporters came out in a massive show of strength against the Labour controlled city council, which wants to axe the TAs' wages by 23%.
In a fantastic demonstration of solidarity, the TAs were joined by TAs from Derby who are facing a similar attack from a Labour administration. There were also workers from Doncaster, Bolton, London and elsewhere who held their trade union banners high as the TAs marched.
At the end rally TA Megan Charlton recalled how, when they set up the campaign, it was "very difficult" and that "initially there weren't big numbers involved". Despite threats, they built the campaign from the bottom up. Megan told the rally: "Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something!"
Gillian Iveson put forward: "We want payback for the 57". That's the 57 Labour councillors who voted to cut TAs' pay. She went on to explain that in Durham's May elections there's a chance to unseat these Labour councillors. She also pointed out that these cuts aren't Tory cuts - they are Labour cuts.
While we hoped the anger against Labour would be channeled into candidates standing as Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), this hasn't happened at this stage. Currently there is a mood among many TAs to vote for anyone other than Labour. This mirrors the mood in Copeland where locally Labour is correctly seen as the establishment.
Durham council is now in discussion with the unions about what Unison, the TAs union, has described as a "different and better deal". This is welcomed by TAs, but Lisa Turnbull made it clear: "We will fight this until we get a resolution that is right and fair for absolutely everybody".
Durham TAs are well aware that even when this issue is sorted, the battle will go on. There are massive cuts in the pipeline for education. However, the Durham TAs have shown a marvellous lead in how to conduct a battle against attacks on working conditions.
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