Article from the Mar. 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI

Classroom Assistants threaten strike action

by Padraig Mulholland

ON 8 March 1857 New York garment workers took to the streets to fight for better working conditions, beginning a world wide movement that is now known as International Women's Day. In 2005 that movement continues.

Women workers in education are rising up against the attempts by employers to place the cost of New Labour's education finance crisis on their backs.

In 1995 an agreement was reached between employers and unions to end the cycle of wage discrimination against women through a process called job evaluation. Classroom assistants (95% women) have had their job evaluation delayed; now it has come to a stop.

Two weeks ago classroom assistants in Tor Bank Special School in Dundonald, a centre of union militancy, declared enough is enough and decided on strike action. Since then word has spread and classroom assistants from Armagh, Omagh, Magherafelt, and Belfast have declared for action.

As part of their campaign, classroom assistants in North Down decided to mark International Women's Day by demonstrating outside five schools at lunch time and holding an evening meeting.

The schools protests were strongly supported and the meeting was a huge success with over 70 classroom assistants from 14 schools attending. The meeting was addressed by Janette Murdock a classroom assistant from Tor Bank and Carmel Gates President of NIPSA. The militancy of the meeting was shown with a 100% vote for strike action to win the job evaluation dispute.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the trade unions representing these women workers are not as strong as the members. Already rumours are circulating that they are offering a sell-out to management so that only some classroom assistants will get a deal. The meeting rejected this course of action and reaffirmed the commitment of classroom assistants to stick together.

Strike action by classroom assistants is expected within weeks.

Outdoor educational centre facing closure

CABRA TOWERS Out-door Educational Centre is under threat of closure because of the cuts in education funding. Despite the fact that it provides an essential service for primary school children, the South Eastern Education and Library Board has targeted it for possible closure, all to save 90,000. MIKE McCLURE, warden of the centre and a member of NIPSA told The Socialist:

"We believe that Cabra Towers is a very valuable asset for the education of children in the SEELB area.

"It provides a unique service in N. Ireland as it is the only Education & Library Board centre which focuses on the curriculum based environmental education for primary school children.

"If Cabra closes we believe that there is a good chance that jobs could be lost in this rural location.

"We have been campaigning to keep Cabra open and will continue to do so as we believe passionately in the value of Education for Sustainable Development and residential opportunities for young people.

"We believe that sacrificing Cabra due to financial cutbacks is a major blow to the long term value of education in N. Ireland and should not be considered."

Brian Booth, secretary of NIPSA Branch 517 and a Socialist Party member commented: "We can't allow a proposal like this to go through. Not only would it mean the loss of an essential service, it would be a green light for other cuts.

"We have decided to ballot all our members for possible industrial action over this. We want our members to be prepared. All education unions should do the same across all the Boards.

"We have raised the proposal for a one day strike of all education workers to take place on 5 May, the day of the local council elections. Determined action of this nature will be needed if the cuts are to be halted."

Muckraking tactics by the FBU right wing

by Ken Smith
ELECTIONS FOR the general secretary position in the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) are under way with candidates seeking nominations. At present it appears to be a two-horse race between incumbent general secretary Andy Gilchrist and recently elected assistant general secretary (AGS) Matt Wrack.

The election for the general secretary promises to be even dirtier than the AGS contest where the right-wing candidate John McGhee was defeated by Matt Wrack.

This was a bruising contest which saw red scare and witch-hunting tactics from much of the union officialdom.

But the red scares and muckraking rebounded on those officials who were desperately trying to cling on to any influence they had in the union. After they were discredited with their handling of the firefighters' strike in 2002-2003.

Now, an investigation into the AGS election has been started and Matt Wrack has been told he cannot take up his new post until September when current AGS Mike Fordham retires. However, if Matt Wrack wins the general secretary election he will take up his new position from early May, when the ballot ends.

Within recent weeks an anonymous flyer - which appears to have the fingerprints of national officials all over it - has been circulated to local brigades and officials which is in effect a red scare smear against Matt Wrack but is also, by association, trying to damage the Socialist Party in Britain and in Northern Ireland, where Socialist Party members have an influential position in the FBU.

In particular, it was Northern Ireland Socialist Party members who were behind the successful move last year to get the FBU to disaffiliate from the Labour Party.

The leaflet, entitled "Wrack-Ruin" says amongst other things: "The choice in the FBU General Secretary election will determine whether the FBU is taken over by a tiny faction of the ultra-left and so becomes completely and utterly marginalised". The leaflet then goes on to claim (falsely in some points) that "Matt Wrack is a long-time member of a range of ultra-left groups dating back to his days in the early 80s in the Trotskyite Militant Tendency. When Militant was expelled from the Labour Party in the mid-80s it created the Socialist Party and Matt Wrack has been a member ever since."

Socialist Party members who went through the witch-hunt in the Labour Party in the 1980s will be familiar with this sort of hysterical smear. But, many members of the FBU are unlikely to have encountered this McCarthyite nonsense before.

Although Matt is no longer a member of the Socialist Party, we will urge FBU members to support him against Andy Gilchrist. At the same time, we would call on FBU members to fight the witchhunt.

The current witch-hunting leaflet is an attempt to throw as many smears as possible to try and prevent Matt Wrack's election. But the union's national leadership are also attempting a "rule or ruin" strategy within the union hierarchy, aiming to create a climate of fear and inhibiting any support for the left growing within the union.

The left in the FBU need to answer these smears and, at the same time, tap into the mood of frustration with the leadership and channel it into a transformation of the union into a democratic and fighting body capable of winning struggles for all its members against the increasingly aggressive tactics of fire authorities and the government.

Earlier industrial and trade union reports

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