"NOT ONE person has gone back in East Ayrshire over the last two weeks. It shows we have an incredible level of determination and strength." That's what striking nursery nurse and union steward Liz McCulloch told Socialist Worker before a mass meeting in East Ayrshire on Wednesday of last week. "Only four people have gone back in the whole of the last month. That's despite many people facing severe hardship," she said.
The nursery nurses have been on all-out strike for nine weeks. They went on strike to fight for a national pay claim. Their union, Unison, abandoned that demand but nursery nurses are fighting on.
Liz continued, "We are now in the game of winning the best local deal possible in the ten councils that were still out at the start of this week. "But the feeling here is clear that the union should not have dropped the national claim."
Glasgow strikers report the same mood. Last week their mass meeting rejected a poor offer by 687 votes to 19. Dundee accepted an improved offer, which they got after facing down an ultimatum from the council. Edinburgh and Fife were two of the other big groups of strikers still out at the start of this week. Strikers picketed the local paper to protest against biased coverage of the dispute.
"The fact that we are still so solid is a source of pride," Margaret Kopicki from Fife told Socialist Worker. "It shows there was the basis to carry on with the national dispute. We are focusing on the fight where we are. But there is still a lot of upset about the union telling us to go for local deals and us finding out about it from the radio."
Strikers are now trying to ensure they match locally the better deals that have been won. "But you can still see the problem," says Jill McNaughton from Dundee. "We accepted an improved offer by about 100 votes to 30. What does that do for neighbouring Angus, though? Their local branch leadership settled much earlier on and they've got a weaker deal. We've seen the strength of nursery nurses in the course of this fight. And it's changed us. But the issue of a national deal remains outstanding, as does the unevenness between areas. One great lesson is that we've got to coordinate to take the best examples of how we ran the strike and get people arguing for that kind of approach everywhere. It's only because in Dundee we got into sending delegations out to raise money and really involving people in the strike that we have managed to build up the hardship fund. We need more of that everywhere and more willingness to tell union officials that it is our strike and we should decide what happens. Our branch officers here were right behind us. But that's not true everywhere."
With many hundreds of nursery nurses still out on Tuesday, collections and solidarity remain vital. A brilliant £280 was collected at the main post office sorting centre in Edinburgh. In Glasgow last week £140 was collected from workers at the main Scottish Power office.
There were also street collections and a bucket collection taken at the May Day festival on Sunday. One teacher in North Lanarkshire collected £40 at work. "We are keeping up the solidarity," says Donna Borokini, a parent at Holmlea nursery in Glasgow. "We've got a public meeting centred on our nursery this week. Parents' backing is still strong. There's also real anger at the councillors and at the Scottish Executive who have both forced the nursery nurses to stay out for so long. "It's vital we keep up the support."
Parents join pickets
By MARK BROWN, parent at Westercraigs nursery
PARENTS AT Westercraigs nursery in the East End of Glasgow organised a brilliant joint picket line with nursery nurses on Friday of last week. Coming the day after the Glasgow strikers overwhelmingly rejected a local deal, the solidarity action provides an excellent example of how to sustain the dispute.
More than 30 strikers, parents and local supporters picketed the nursery where a scab head teacher has been organising strikebreaking. Only one child was taken into the centre, and one parent, who has been crossing the picket line, drove away.