A majority of teaching assistants voted overwhelmingly for strike action — there was a 72 per cent turnout, and 78 per cent rejected DCC’s offer of ‘compensation’ for the cuts.
There were similar returns in the smaller unions, except for GMB.
We held two two-day strikes in November, fully backed with strike pay by UNISON after our successful ballot.
We had 80 picket lines the first week, and a hundred the next week.
We were set to strike again when DCC announced that it would suspend the threat to sack us and re-engage us on 1 January, at least until September 2017.
UNISON called off a planned three-day action. Battle won, but the war isn’t over.
DCC helped us enormously by being cowardly and dishonest.
It never could elaborate on the ‘ongoing equal-pay risk’, and it was made to look stupid as it emerged how little we are paid.
Parents were not annoyed with teaching assistants — they were disgusted with the council.
Articles in the Guardian and other publications raised our profile and put pressure on UNISON, which has now fully backed us.
Rather than trying to argue its case, DCC pulled the curtains in their committee rooms and isolated themselves.
They tried bullying tactics, like telling teaching assistants not to wear ‘Proud to be a Durham Teaching Assistant’ t-shirts on council property.
They also menaced some of us by saying on social media that we were at risk of ‘bringing the council into disrepute’.
The current situation is an agreement that the council, in partnership with recognised trade unions, will undertake a review of teaching assistants’ roles, functions, job descriptions and activities.
So what does 2017 hold for teaching assistants in Durham?
We remain determined, and if DCC thinks it can dampen our spirits by dragging out the process, it is wrong.
Until we get all threats of pay cuts withdrawn, we will continue to rally and take action.
We are happy to negotiate but will not be cajoled into accepting any backroom deals.
We will throw our considerable organisational capacity into campaigning for the defeat of every councillor who voted for this proposal in the council elections of May 2017 unless we receive an improved offer.
Various events in 2016 seemed dismaying to some of us (I voted Remain); but the new spirit that rejects TINA is surely a highlight of the past year.
We have already inspired many with our stubborn refusal to accept cuts in our pay.
I hope this will continue.