Low paid school support workers at Ash Field Academy in Leicester have voted by 85% (with a turnout of 67%) to continue their six-month campaign of strike action. The workers, who are members of the UNISON public sector union, have taken 27 days of action in that time. Now entering a new phase of their campaign, they are appealing for solidarity, and our readers can play an important role in aiding this key dispute.
The Ash Field dispute developed during the big strike wave that took place in Britain over the last year. That wave has in many ways subsided in recent months. Several of the biggest disputes have been settled without decisive victories for either workers or the employers — unions have emerged with better pay rises than initially offered, though not what they had been demanding. We can expect an even bigger second wave at some point in the future, but also some important disputes still continue. That includes train workers and hospital doctors, both seeming set to last a significant time, with workers and employers looking determined not to give in.
But the wave of action we have seen has had an impact beyond only the big national disputes. It has put strikes on the agenda for a very wide section of workers. One consequence of that is an increase in local strikes, not only in number but also in militancy, numbers of workers actively involved, longevity, and understanding of what might be necessary to win. Many of these are continuing to develop even in this phase of retreat in the wider movement. Ash Field, where Socialist Alternative member Tom Barker is a union representative who has played a leading role in the strike, is one of the most important examples of this trend. It has become a point of reference in the labour movement across Britain, not least because of the impressive concessions it has already won.
The workers — who are very low paid, mainly women and people of colour — have already secured an 8% local government pay rise, on top of an agreement to bring classroom-based staff pay in line with other equivalent school workers (backdated to April 2022). The school has also offered a one off payment of £1,075. This is the biggest increase won by any school support staff over the last five years, and shows what a fighting approach can force from employers, who initially claimed that anything beyond their opening offer would be impossible. But the workers are determined to keep fighting for a real cost of living pay increase — not only one which corrects an unjust historic underpayment. This is critically important to support staff at Ash Field who, because they have been underpaid for around ten years, have been left significantly more exposed to the cost of living crisis.
This campaign has maintained momentum in a truly impressive way, based on an approach of constantly involving the widest possible layer of workers, including a large strike committee, vibrant, dynamic picket lines, as well as appealing for support from parents and the public. To keep this up heading towards their 30th day of action, and with this new mandate lasting for another six months, solidarity from across the movement in Britain and beyond is essential.
Please ensure to:
Email solidarity messages to Unison Leicester City branch: email@example.com
Send an e-mail (model letters can be found here) to the City Mayor of Leicester at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a tweet: @CityMayorLeic