Guest post by Daniel Kebede of the NUT (speech to Durham Teaching Assistants Rally, 25th March 2017):
“My name is Daniel Kebede and I’m a teacher in North Tyneside. I teach within a school for children with social emotional and behavioural difficulties. It’s a challenging environment. We teach mainly white working class boys all of whom have been permanently removed from a mainstream setting. None of our children come from private schools or posh estates, none have had an easy start to their lives, I’m yet to come across a Tarquin or Wigbert…. but I love it.
I’d like to start by thanking the Lions of Durham for inviting me to speak here today. As a rank and file teacher and NUT activist it is a real honour. I am the assistant branch secretary of North Tyneside NUT and I am proud that we are here today. North Tyneside NUT supports your struggle unconditionally. Not only do you have the support of North Tyneside NUT and NUT activists in our region, but I am pleased to be joined on this platform by my General Secretary, Kevin Courtney. What is clear, is from the root to the fruit, the National Union of Teachers, stands in solidarity with the Durham TAs.
I’d like to tell you about someone called Pauline. She has 100 different tasks to do a day. She does the morning toast, she takes care of any tears, she deals with extreme behaviours and that is just the tip of the iceberg. She has a workload that can sometimes feels like it never ends, but she has one job. She is a teaching assistant. She is the teaching assistant in our classroom and my job would not be possible without her. The bond we have is special as we both know what we each us goes through everyday, trying to provide the best with for our children in a climate of continuing government cuts. Her job is far from easy, the financial rewards are not enough her salary is already too little. But I value her. And if she was to go on the strike, like the teaching assistants in this county, well I wouldn’t cross her picket….. for starters she’d kick my arse. I know the fire of our Pauline. And if there is one thing, that Durham County Council have underestimated, it is the fire of the Durham Lions.
Because let us be really clear, this dispute… as so many have been before, is underpinned by the devaluation of a woman’s work. This predominantly female workforce, who have already had their labour undersold are being SOLD OUT. Not because what they do is not highly skilled, nor without risk or responsibility but because there is a system which normalises their devaluation. And what we have seen throughout history is that where there is no resistance the gravest of injustices occur. I imagine for Durham County Council subservience and submissiveness was what was expected as a response to these changes, that they could have been nodded through with little or no noise. Well Simon Henig and Alan Napier you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.
The decision of Durham County Council to attack already low paid women workers, cuts of 23% and thousands of pounds a year, must be continued to be resisted. This dispute will go down in history, like dispute of Jayaben Desai and the striking Sari’s of Grunwick. It will go down in history like the striking sewing machinists of Ford Dagenham. It will go down in history, with only one outcome. Victory for the Durham TA’s.
So my message to Durham County Council is this. End the uncertainty. End the 18 months of worry and pain that is being forced upon these workers and return with a deal of fair pay. Because there is no excuse for these cuts, these cuts are a political choice.
The Durham Lions, you are the essence of resistance. You strike fear into the men in suits, the policy makers who don’t only want to attack you, but want to attack us all. Our schools are being privatised, not only because the rich don’t pay their taxes, not only because businesses see a way of making profits from education. But because privatisation means replacing comprehensive education with selection and elitism. With their grammar schools, they hope to teach us that we aren’t entitled to a decent education, we aren’t entitled to share in the same fruits or eat from the same plate. But they’ve got it wrong. Because there’s a fight back and it is being led by you. So, when you win we all win. But it’s important to remember, we can all be lions. Teaching Assistants, teachers, doctors, nurses, firefighters working people up and down this country, have a shared struggle. And it is when we stand our power multiplies.
I started this speech by saying thank you and I want to finish it by saying thank you. Thank you, the Lions of Durham for leading the fight back in education. Thank you for inspiring others to stand up and say no to employers who seek to extract the maximum productivity for the minimum cost. Thank you for fighting on behalf of our class, on behalf of all working people who are being brutalised by a government and economic system that benefits the few and not the many.
To the County Durham Teaching assistants thank you for your strength, for your power and for solidarity.”