Austerity Britain: How Unison has helped create Durham’s new poor


Durham teacher assistants lobbying shadow chancellor John McDonnell at the Labour conference in Liverpool


While the national  press depicted Labour’s policies as “la la land”  and Jeremy Corbyn as ” unelectable” down at the grass roots  a group of feisty women campaigners were lobbying union leaders and John McDonnell at the conference over the very issues that have led to the rise of Corbyn and the demise of the metropolitan elite.

The Durham teacher assistants or assistant teachers as they prefer to call themselves are just one group who have been hard done by austerity and public service cuts that followed the banking crisis and is still going on today.

Their case has been more eloquently outlined by my former colleague on the Guardian  Adita  Chakrabortty  in this long article where he describes them as the Lions of Durham. Basically they are among 2700 TA’s paid from just £14,000 to  £20,000 a year and now facing a pay cut of 23 per cent or the sack.This follows years of no or minimal pay rises that have already cut their standard of living. Even those who decide to work longer hours still face a 10 per cent cut.

The most they have been offered is some  “compensation” a deferment of the  wage cuts for two years but by the time Britain goes to the polls in 2020 they will all be far  worse off than now.

All this  is happening under a Labour controlled council and they are represented by a Labour affiliated union, Unison, which supported Corbyn for the leadership.

Durham county council – which to be fair has faced substantial cuts under the Tories – seem to have mishandled the whole affair by not implementing properly an agreement four years ago and were faced with legal advice saying they had to bring  the system into line with other authorities and impose cuts..

But probably the worst offender is Unison itself who, according to the campaigners, has done little to represent them by negotiating hard on their behalf like say the FBU does for its firefighters or the RMT for its guards.

Until the Labour conference Unison seem to expect the workers themselves to lobby local councillors and local Labour MPs to try and persuade them to change their mind. Not altogether surprisingly the councillors – faced with advice from officials that they would  be breaking the law to do so – have shied away.

And most of the MPs with one notable exception- Grahame Morris Mp for Easington  – have said they cannot negotiate themselves with Durham County Council on their behalf as it is up to their union.

This has left a load of activist voters very, very angry. It has been made worse by the patronising  and off hand treatment from some officials in Durham County Council’s human resources department who haven’t even bothered to spell out the lower rates of pay.

And while Dave Prentis, the union’s leader, makes great rousing speeches ( he did so at fringes in the conference) on the plight of the lower paid public sector workers, his officials lower down the chain have been distinctly unhelpful, patronising and some times downright rude to their own members. No wonder one of the teaching assistants described Dave Prentis as  “all mouth and no trousers”. But then he is not facing a 23 per cent pay cut from Unison.

All this is leading to damaging repercussions. Some of the assistants are planning to vote Liberal Democrat in May’s elections while supporting Corbyn at the next general election. They want revenge on the councillors and unfortunately if the Lib Dems ( who are having a local council resurgence)  win seats it will be seen as a verdict against Jeremy when it is against a local Labour council.

Following the conference the Unison TA’s have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and want union support – their GMB colleagues voted narrowly against.

It seems to me time Unison pulled its finger out and went into hard negotiations with the local council. The deal they are being offered is worse than people in many other authorities have got – where wages have been safeguarded through regrading – and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of regional organisers like Clare Williams to organise such talks now there a vote for strike action.

My view on Unison is also shared by local Labour  MPs like Kevan Jones, who has taken stick from the teacher assistants for not intervening. As a former trade union negotiator himself, he is not impressed by Unison’s local tactics and their failure until now  to negotiate on their behalf.

If Unison do let these workers down they will not only betray their members but bear some responsibility for creating more unnecessary poverty for low paid workers and fuel resentment and anger that is already felt by people left out in the cold by the Tories.










2 thoughts on “Austerity Britain: How Unison has helped create Durham’s new poor

  1. I comment from having had brief conversations with some of the two hundred assistant teachers who marched past Jeremy Corbyn on the famous Hotel balcony during the Durham Miners Gala and later Jeremy in his speech (with the leader of Durham County Council among the platform seating) he called for a settlement which has so far not been achieved. It is no coincidence that one of the first local offices of the Statutory Inquiry has been set up in Darlington County Durham and that one Investigation inquiry centre on the Durham short sharp shocks Medomsley and that the former Approved School Stanhope Castle is in County Durham and that the former Aytcliffe Approved School County Durham subsequent Community Home with Education on the Premises as was Stanhope Castle and that the link between staff who worked in Approved Schools such as Axwell Park Newcastle stretched to North Wales and Bryn Alyn and Calderdale and the Roycroft Inquiry into the role of the convicted and imprisoned Director of Social services. The point I am making is role of the Labour Party and of Trade Unions in the cover up alongside the Freemasonry the latter explored by Chris Mullin Sunderland South MP when chairing the Home Affairs Select Committee and which highlight the concerns in relation to local Government and the police his work.

    The abject failure of the Sunderland Council for fifty years to provide safe and decent child care services for children at risk merits separate attention. I recently read Not without you by Alan and Irene Brogan who paint a vivid picture of their treatment in care of the Sunderland Council for primary school through to leaving care in the 1960’s. Alan Brogan went to Aytcliffe and Stanhope Castle. Through to the political corruption and cover up which I was able to identity following two references from the editor and staff of the Sunderland Echo based information confirmed by my predecessor and which culminated ten years after my departure in 2003 with a Class action involving some 60 former children only three of whom on my original list of a similar number and but where the number of alleged perpetrators of abuse had least double ( I did not compare the two lists and the number of homes involved ( not all provided by Sunderland Council) had trebled) You will appreciate that the problem has continued with special measures and a number of inquests and investigation in to current matters as well as past.
    It is not appreciate that the Northumbria Police Investigations re Sunderland were separate from Operation Rose with centred on Newcastle and Northumberland and where all Tyne War and other authorities became involved because of the movement of staff. You will be aware that the main known abuse of a large number of children in the 1970’s was in Newcastle and that Newcastle placed 69 of its children in care and an unstated number of children on Intermediate Treatment at Bryn Alyn. There is a direct relationship between totalitarian top down political and trade power together with the role of freemasonry and the abuse of power whether in the North East or Northern Ireland, just as Catholic church played a major role the abuse and cover up in Eire. oddly attacking the established order in this respect it what Jeremey Corbyn and the majority of those signing up to support him together with nationally known Labour politicians such as Yvette Cooper and Angela Eagle (both of whom I voted for in the 2015 Leadership election) . The Blair Government could have attempted to get to the truth about Orgreave or Hillsborough. It is also worth noting that it was former Prime Minister David Cameron and present Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson who put the lid on investigating child abuse in 2002 under the chairmanship of Chris Mullin and it was the same two who initiated the present police and statutory inquiry. How the Labour party and individual Trade unions now cope with increases in memberships of the scale we have seen over the past year and can be expected to see over the coming year with very different people no long accepting top down dictatorship from Westminster with individual trade union and local council leaderships we wont have long to wait and see. and the nature of the counter revolutionary response Colin Smart


  2. “The disastrous VIP inquiry, Operation Midland, was axed in March, after failing to charge anyone. In the meantime, names of numerous innocent supposed abusers had been publicised, including the late Lord Janner; the late Prime Minister Ted Heath; former Tory MP Harvey Proctor; and Field Marshall Lord Bramall. A report into the fiasco by Sir Richard Henriques is due on Thursday and is expected to be critical of the Metropolitan Police.”

    Off topic David but have you seen this? I am resigned to the use of innocent in respect of those where insufficient evidence was found but putting Lord Janner in this list? Is it shoddy journalism or is there something more sinister? Do you know these journalists? Where does loyalty to employers, job security, or to fellow masons, or whatever, end and professional integrity and self-respect start. They would seem to have neither and should be ashamed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.