Labour-led Derby City Council have sparked outrage by comparing their dispute with striking school support workers to that between Margaret Thatcher and the striking miners in the 1980s, before threatening to “starve them back to work.” Shockingly, the leader of this council, Councillor Ranjit Banwait, claims to be a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.
Derby Unison branch secretary Nicole Berrisford has since hit back at the council, stating that “[w]e are keen that our members aren’t starved back to work. They are not miners; this is not the 1980s.” The workers themselves, who refuse to be cowed by this hateful rhetoric, will be taking strike action this Wednesday (September 14).
Significantly, when Jeremy Corbyn came to address a 3,000 strong crowd in Derby last month, he was quick to offer his support for the Berrisford and Derby teaching assistants. Certainly under Corbyn’s watch, it is unlikely that Derby’s support workers will be hung out to dry, unlike Neil Kinnock’s treatment of the miners in the 1980s.
The beleaguered teaching assistants will also be reassured that Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner (Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne) has just announced that she is “backing Derby city school support staff and looks forward to meeting them when they come to Parliament” on Wednesday.
But all of this raises the question of how a self-described Corbyn supporter could come to lead such vicious anti-worker attacks.
Tory cuts to public funding are destroying council services across the country – and Derby is no exception. Since 2010, Derby Council has made an eye-watering £115 million of cuts; a further £45 million will be cut from their budget over the next three years. Cllr Banwait is the principle figure overseeing these cuts.
Banwait is fully aware of the dire political consequences of failing to resist Tory austerity, however. Earlier this year, Banwait acknowledged that making a further £45 million over the next three years would be “be impossible to deliver without the closure of public services – a position that is both political and electoral suicide.”
It is for this reason that Banwait has found himself in the absurd position of joining an anti-cuts lobby of his own Council budget-setting meeting… and then going inside and voting for cuts.
Having accepted that he must oversee Tory austerity, Banwait has now found himself engaged in a war of attrition against already underpaid education workers employed by the council. Under Banwait’s leadership, school support staff in Derby have been informed by the Labour-led Council that they would be facing up to a 25% cut in their wages. Predictably, this attack has been met with strikes and protests, backed by UNISON.
Like many Labour council leaders, Banwait believes his hand is being forced by the Tories. In reality, Banwait is simply taking the path of least resistance. There is an alternative, but it is a fighting alternative, which Banwait and his council have rejected in the most categorical terms.
To avoid the “political and electoral suicide” of alleged anti-austerity councillors carrying out vicious attacks on workers, Corbyn, post-leadership election, needs to call on Labour councils to go on the offensive and refuse to implement Tory cuts. In the short-term, the financial reserves of Britain’s many Labour councils could be pooled, and redistributed according to need, so it could be spent to prevent cuts to services during the formative stages of a national fightback. Such a campaign has the potential to mobilise disillusioned voters behind the Labour Party, and act to reverse the social devastation already caused by Tory austerity.
How You Can Help
Donations to the teaching assistants’ strike fund can be made here
You can sign the petition to support Derby’s Teaching Assistants here.