The Lions of Durham: Teaching Assistants Roar

IT WOULD be a mistake to think that the revaluation of business rates, from which Chancellor Philip Hammond is to receive a payout, had been designed to benefit him personally. 


Not least because the changes, which estate agents say are the largest in a generation, were drawn up two years ago but then put off to spare firms “sharp changes.”

It should be understood as the result of a broken system, the foundations of which are rotten through.

Rates, the commercial equivalent of council tax, are based on the value of the property occupied.

And so the changes are a symptom of Britain’s dysfunctional property “market,” which for many decades has been a plaything for speculators.

Particularly in London, where property prices have increased sharply since the financial crash of 2008, the effect is likely to be severe.

Some areas in the centre of the city face an increase of over 400 per cent — but it’s not spread evenly, with ex-chancellor George Osborne’s wallpaper showroom benefitting from a £3,400 cut.

Based as they are on the market price, the changes in rates expose the irrational and capricious nature of markets. Just as with housing, there is no accounting for need and social benefit.

Are the playthings of multimillionaires Hammond and Osborne deserving, in the true sense, of a rate cut? The question doesn’t even come up.

Letting speculators determine the cost of such essential items as land, as Karl Polanyi wrote over 70 years ago, “means to subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws of the market.”

And you can see the effects that propping up the “laws of the market” has on the broader “substance of society” when we consider the case of the Durham teaching assistants.

These workers provide essential support in our schools yet for their troubles face a shameful 23 per cent cut in their pay as the council tries to force them onto term-time contracts.

While Osborne and Hammond add even more money to their hoards thanks ultimately to property speculation, the teaching assistants are having to fight tooth and nail to protect their current wages — despite already being “massively underpaid,” according to NUT teachers’ leader Kevin Courtney.

“Schools can’t run without TAs. Schools can’t cope without TAs,” he told an impressive rally in support of the workers.

And yet, because of years of cuts orchestrated by Osborne and now Hammond, the council is trying to slash its spending by any means possible. In this case it means forcing low-paid teaching assistants into poverty.

The same situation is playing out all over Britain, where the services we need to ensure a civilised society — and the people who provide them — face ever deeper cuts.

We are not without options — the alternatives to austerity are clear — but to overthrow the domination of the market, and all those who profit from its exploitation of the working class, we must take our inspiration from the Durham teaching assistants and fight back hard.


This article first appeared in the Morning Star Monday 27 March

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