England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

New Socialist Alternative publication: ‘How workers can win: Lessons from the strike victory at Ash Field Academy’

By Tom Barker, UNISON Steward at Ash Field Academy (personal capacity)

In November 2023, following 43 days of industrial action over an eight-month period, support workers in my workplace (a special educational needs school in Leicester) emerged victorious in our fight for fair pay. Unlike many other workers at the time, even those in dispute, we didn’t just succeed in limiting the impact of runaway inflation. We won inflation-busting pay rises of between 18 and 25% for classroom workers – backdated for more than a year – additional one-off payments of £2,000 for all support staff, and a contractual commitment from our employer to follow all National Joint Council pay settlements going forward.

‘How Workers Can Win’ is the latest publication by Socialist Alternative. It explains the approach that was taken throughout the dispute at Ash Field, the role of effective leadership, and how to empower members to take control of their situation.

It is not a step-by-step guide, but rather an attempt to draw out some general principles of workplace organisation that can be used in other settings and sectors. It gives details of some of the many obstacles that workers face when fighting for fair pay and conditions – whether that is dealing with sudden shifts in mood, obstruction from the trade union bureaucracy, or the financial pressures faced by striking members – and how they can be overcome.

There are many publications written about organising in trade unions, most of which are aimed at union officials. This pamphlet is different. It is about organising from below, from the ‘shop floor’. My substantive role at the school is as a teaching assistant and also the UNISON steward. As Marxists, we believe that genuine workers’ democracy is central to building a socialist society.

The measure of a dispute’s success is, therefore, as much about changing the balance of power in a workplace as it is about winning gains for workers. This pamphlet explains how this can be done.

Class struggle approach to trade unionism

We won the dispute at Ash Field by adopting a class-struggle approach to trade unionism. This is an approach where every opportunity is taken to collectivise workplace issues. It is an approach which always seeks to empower workers to take up problems themselves, although with support. Our dispute was run by a strike committee, made up of the most active and committed members. Class-struggle trade unionism recognises the key role and responsibilities of leadership. Without these ingredients we could not have won such a decisive victory.

Class-struggle trade unionism is also based on the idea that the strike is the most powerful weapon a worker has. Ultimately, it is about showing members their own potential power when they act together as a class. It is a means to win improvements, but also to point to a way of fundamentally altering the balance of power in a workplace and society by showing the potential strength of the working class.

Above all, ‘How Workers Can Win’ is aimed at workers who want and need to turn the trade unions into fighting organisations to win real improvements and to begin to bring about the sweeping socialist change that working class people so urgently need.




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