Durham Teaching Assistants' year of resistance is summed up by Megan Charlton
I have a confession to make: I watched Pride for the first time this week. I missed it on BBC2 but my daughter had bought it for me for Christmas so we had a family film night. I loved the fashion and the music (I was in 6th form in 1984) and I loved the Welsh connection (I spent much of my childhood in South Wales with grandparents) but most of all I loved the story, the humanity, the solidarity.
It made me think about our campaign and how life has changed over the last year.
How would I sum up 2016?
Four words: pride, solidarity, anger and hope.
Pride in what we have achieved so far. Pride that a group of low paid, mostly female workers refused to accept life-changing pay cuts but instead stood up, organised and made a lot of noise until the Council were forced to listen. Pride that we are prepared to fight on until we achieve a fair deal for all of us.
Solidarity both within our campaign and from outside. In Pride, Dai’s words of thanks from the stage on his first trip to London really resonated:
What you’ve given us is more than money, it’s friendship. And when you’re in a battle against an enemy so much bigger, so much stronger than you, to find out you had a friend you never knew existed, well that’s the best feeling in the world.
I’m not ashamed to say that I cried when I heard his words. It perfectly summed up how we felt when we read the comments on our Just Giving page, or read messages of support from individuals, trade union branches and other groups around the country and even from other countries. It is also how we have felt when we have gone out to various events to talk about our campaign or have spoken to activists who have offered their advice and support.
But we have also found new friendships amongst other Durham TAs. None of the CDTAAC (County Durham Teaching Assistants’ Activist Committee) knew each other before this started, neither did our amazing social media team, the Twitterati. We worked (and often socialised) in our tiny school communities, unaware that we were part of something much bigger, unaware that we were part of a profession; but this year has changed all that. We now have a strong and lasting bond, across the 2700 TAs in County Durham but also with other TAs across the country and with other activists.
Anger at what we have had to endure: the stress of being faced with the sack, with being forced to accept a huge pay cut or being forced to leave a job we love. Anger at the way we have been portrayed by Durham County Council who have constantly talked about how we are ‘paid for more hours and more weeks than we actually work’ when the contracts they gave us clearly say we are paid for the hours and weeks we actually work (not to mention the unpaid overtime). Anger that they can say whatever they like about us but, when we try to respond, we are silenced or disciplined for ‘bringing our employer into disrepute’. Anger that, until we went on strike, we were not allowed to talk to parents about what was happening. Anger that there are so many other people around the country facing similar attacks and similar struggles. Anger that cuts to education, to the NHS, to Council budgets will make these attacks worse and more widespread.
Hope that in 2017 we will achieve what we deserve: a full review of TA’s roles and responsibilities that leads to us being paid for the jobs that we actually do, rather than the jobs we did in the past. Hope that others facing similar attacks on their pay and conditions will have the strength and confidence to stand up and fight. Hope that we will be able to offer others what we have received so much of: solidarity and support.
To finish with another quote from Pride:
One community should give solidarity to another. It’s important if you’re defending communities that you are also defending all communities, not just one.
And that is our biggest hope for 2017, that different communities, different groups will come together in solidarity to fight for themselves and for each other.
Happy New Year from Durham Teaching Assistants and Solidarity to all in struggle.
Follow us on facebook: Durham TA's Value Us Campaign
and on twitter: @TAs_Durham
Read more about what a TA's job involves: https://cherrylkd.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/professional-standards-for-teaching-assistants/