Northern Ireland: Classroom Assistants vote 93% for strike action on 26 September

1,000 schools affected…picket lines in every city, town and village

The deep underlying anger felt by all public sector workers across Northern Ireland has exploded to the surface with a massive 93.37% vote for all out strike action by primary school classroom workers in schools.

The strike is in response to a vicious campaign of cuts instigated by the Direct Rule Ministers and continued by local politicians in the Assembly [N Ireland ‘power sharing parliament’].  Many had expected a change in policy when local politicians took charge.  Now there is a sense of shock that they have continued where New Labour left off.  In the last few months, the Assembly parties have made clear that they intend privatizing; cutting and selling off the public sector.  But already their cuts policy has taken them a step too far.  Classroom workers are rebelling.  They unanimously rejected an attempt by the Education Minister, Catriona Ruane, to impose a new contract in June that would have seen a vicious slashing of pay, deskilling of jobs, and many workers forced to seek alternative work, leaving children without the support they need. 

The classroom assistants have given Minister Ruane their answer to her attack in the form of the magnificent vote for strike action. 

The strike which is due to begin on 26 September, and then escalate to all out strike action at the beginning of October, will have a massive impact across Northern Ireland.  Up to 1,000 schools could be affected, picket lines will appear in every city, town and village and an army of angry workers is ready to take on all comers. 

The anger of the classroom assistants reflects a wider resentment against their employers amongst all education workers, teaching and non-teaching. At some point, the leaders of this dispute may have to bring that anger into play and to call all education workers out on strike in solidarity with the classroom assistants. 

The scene will then be set for a united fight back against the miserable working conditions, and further attacks on the right to education that the Assembly has planned. After all, a defeat for the classroom assistants would be a defeat for everyone but a victory will be a victory for all workers.

For school staff, parents, and the wider trade union and socialist movement, there is a challenge ahead: If a broad campaign, with a democratically accountable leadership that matches the determination of the classroom assistants, is built, an historic victory can be achieved.

Why I voted for strike action

NIPSA classroom Workers Strike Committee Representative Janette Murdock spoke to The Socialist.

“Every single day of our working lives is dedicated to doing our best to provide an education for children. Now our employers want to abuse the job evaluation process to strip that education from the children we care for.

“If we can no longer ensure, through our work in the classroom, that children receive their right to a decent education then we will fight to defend their rights on the picket lines.

“The Minister for Education decided to avoid meaningful talks all summer. Through her actions she has placed education in a crisis. Children are at risk and we can no longer stand aside from this fight. We have worked too hard and sacrificed too much to allow a short term, penny-pinching administration to ruin the lives of this generation of children.

“We will not allow ourselves to be driven out of our jobs without a fight and we will not walk away from our responsibility to children.”

Janette Murdock is a classroom assistant in Tor Bank Special.

This article appears in the current edition of The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party (CWI) in Ireland

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