by Brayden Lew, Hackney Socialist Party
Teaching assistants organised by general union Unite took to the streets on 10-12 February to picket against unnecessary forced redundancies.
The Colvestone and Thomas Fairchild primary schools in Hackney, east London are currently facing a budget deficit. Their joint management has chosen to lay off these key members of staff – some of whom have been with the schools for more than 30 years.
Hackney Council has the ability to accept the budget deficit and carry it on into next year. This, combined with fighting for more funding, would prevent these cruel redundancies taking place during a global pandemic. But neither the school, nor the council has been willing to enter into a meaningful dialogue about this course of action.
Staff present at the picket line during the week were heartbroken over the situation and fearful for the stability of their students’ lives during this already tumultuous time. They were also justifiably concerned about their own financial security, especially now with a majority of schools across London also facing financial difficulty.
Fight for school funding
Strikers told us that management had advised several members facing redundancy to simply apply for other, lower-paying, less stable positions. Those few positions available are also now subject to a ‘review’ in six months’ time.
Police were called out to the peaceful picket line on Thursday morning, firstly making sure everyone was maintaining social distancing. Once they were content with this, they could be seen standing in the street next to the school taking photos of seagulls eating pizza off the ground.
Things quickly escalated, however, when the officers told pickets that were ‘illegally’ protesting under Covid-19 restrictions and needed to disperse immediately. Union organisers quickly stepped in to explain that strike pickets are not illegal, and the police left shortly after.
Many Socialist Party members were present at the picket line in solidarity with educators who were quite literally left out in the cold. Local Labour councils have the power to set no-cuts budgets, fight for better resources and demand more money for schools — yet they do not. The Socialist Party is running in the May elections, as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, on these key issues and more, in order to help workers like these striking TAs build the political alternative they need.