Wirral: Workers and community defeat school pay cuts
Wirral Unison has announced a substantial victory for school support staff at Woodchurch Road Primary School. Some pay cuts have been paused until July and others withdrawn completely.
At the start of the school year the senior leadership team in the school announced plans to cut the hours of teaching assistants and play workers by between 16% and 20% from January. This meant the workers, mainly low-paid women, faced pay cuts of up to £3,885 just after Christmas. Despite the school’s protestations, this would clearly have a substantial and detrimental impact on the children at the school.
Wirral Unison immediately called on the council to intervene and support the school in addressing its problems without making cuts. Sadly the response of the council was ‘there’s nothing we can do, it’s down to the school’. Faced with official indifference, Unison balloted its 21 affected members for strike action – the response was amazing! 100% of members voted in the ballot, and 100% voted for strike action. It was also clear that the support for the strike extended beyond those workers who faced the pay cuts.
The ballot was accompanied by a public and high profile community campaign. A public meeting was attended by nearly 150, and over 2,000 viewed it on Facebook in the day that followed. The local MP, Mick Whitley, was very supportive, and we got significant press coverage. Every local shop and takeaway took our petition and displayed our posters. This, allied to the clear determination of the support staff, was undoubtedly starting to have an impact.
Motions were passed by a number of Labour Party branches, supporting the strike and calling on the council to intervene. Wirral is a minority-Labour council, and this political pressure was also beginning to tell.
Just days before the strike, the cuts to play workers were withdrawn, and the cuts to teaching assistants were deferred to July. That was welcome news; but for the workers and Wirral Unison it was not enough. We pressed for and got agreement from the council to set up a school action group with a clear remit to address the key issues at the school. This will involve the senior leadership team, councillors, council officers and trade union reps. This, it is hoped, will remove the need for any cuts in the future.
Wirral Unison and the workers at the school took a strong and determined stance, and kept the pressure on the council to intervene. That is an approach that has delivered the fantastic results we’ve had so far. This may have been a localised dispute, but for the workers at the school, and the local community, it was a massive one; and the lessons are there for communities and union branches across the country. We can win!