Socialist Worker

Thousands fight to end poverty

Strikers demand bosses stop treating them like second class citizens

Issue No. 1856

'IT'S ABOUT time the low paid stood up and gave the politicians and the fat cats a good shaking,' says Annie, a striking nursery nurse from Edinburgh. She is one of thousands of workers across Britain who are fighting to end poverty pay and stop bosses treating them like second class citizens.

The strikes which are happening now give a glimpse of the deep anger among millions of workers, a mood which the union leaders should now be tapping more widely. In east London on Friday of last week, 126 nursery nurses started an all-out, indefinite strike.

The workers are almost all women, and reflect the multiracial local community. They are white, Bengali and Somali - all united. The council put the nursery nurses through a regrading exercise which gave them a well-deserved pay rise.

But then the council tried to claw back some of the money, by only paying the nursery nurses in school term time and making them work an extra two and half hours a week. The nursery nurses voted by 97 percent for action. Tahera Begum, from Elizabeth Selby school, explained, 'We don't want to be on strike. But we have no choice.'

Jean Crow, also from Elizabeth Selby, said, 'We work alongside teachers and do extra hours - coming in early and staying late. We even work lunch hours and come in during holidays to make sure the children get the best. But we are treated as if we are worth nothing.'

Her workmate, Jahanara Aziz, added, 'We have professional qualifications, go on courses, and have to implement all the changes in the curriculum. We give 100 percent.' Sharon Rickard from Elizabeth Selby agreed: 'Teachers are paid all year round, why shouldn't we be? It's about respect.'

Her colleague Hajera Ali argued, 'Nursery is the most important part of a child's education. If the foundations are not strong what can you build on top?' The nursery nurses, even on the top end of their pay scale, take home around £900 a month. In London this is barely adequate to live on. Many take home less.

'Our job is physically demanding and you have to be alert all the time. You don't get a break until you go home,' said Shahida Patel from the Manorfields school. It's hard to go on strike,' said her colleague Michelle Knowles. 'You have your heart pulling at you. You want to be there for the children but this is our livelihood, our career. Most of the parents know what we do and support us.'

Chris Connolly is the workers' Unison assistant branch secretary, and is helping to organise the strike. 'We want to end the class system in schools!' was how Chris summed up the fight. 'Nursery nurses shouldn't be treated as second or third class.'

Many of the workers have been involved in one-day stoppages over their union's London weighting and national pay disputes over the last year. 'One-day strikes don't have enough impact,' argued Marian Adam from Culloden school. 'This all-out action is much more effective.' Workmate Sue Burton added, 'We just want to be valued. We are standing up for ourselves, and for the value of what we do for the children.'

Similar issues are behind the strike involving 5,000 nursery nurses in Scotland. They are continuing their strikes region by region. Last week around 2,000 nursery nurses from Glasgow, East Renfrewshire, East and West Dunbartonshire, Highland and Dumfries & Galloway went on strike.

Janet Hogan, a Glasgow nursery nurse, told Socialist Worker, 'We're now in the fifth week of this struggle and the councils are still not prepared to make any decent offer. We need to increase the pressure. We deserve support from everybody who wants to see low pay defeated and childcare valued. We start on £200 a week and even at the top end of the scale we get less than £280 a week - after 20 years service!'

This week the areas on strike included Falkirk, Stirling, Perth & Kinross, Dundee City, Fife and South Lanarkshire. Next Tuesday there will be strikes across Scotland and a major rally in Glasgow. Meanwhile in the NHS strikes over pay by cooks, cleaners and porters continue at North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Trust.

This includes three hospitals in Scunthorpe, Goole and Grimsby. From last Saturday workers have been striking every other day against their employers, the private company Carillion. The latest round of strikes continues until 28 June.

Relations with management are so bad that as well as the official strikes, 25 porters walked out unofficially recently. The workers are determined to stick out to win £5.02 an hour minimum wage and parity with NHS terms and conditions.

There is the same spirit of defiance in east London. Porters, domestics and catering staff at Whipps Cross Hospital in Waltham Forest were to strike for three days this week. They are demanding £5.43 an hour - hardly a fortune for keeping the NHS going.

  • Scottish nursery nurses demonstration - Tuesday 24 June, assemble 1pm, Blythswood Square, Glasgow for march to Glasgow Green. Go to www.unison-scotland.org.uk


    Support these strikers

    Send messages of support, donations, requests for speakers to:
    Tower Hamlets Unison, York Hall, Old Ford Road, London E2 9LN. Phone 020 8983 0637.
    Scunthorpe c/o J Koper, 44 Cliff Garden, Scunthorpe DN15. Cheques payable to Scunthorpe Health Branch Hardship Fund.
    Whipps Cross Unison Office, Whipps Cross Hospital, Leytonstone, London E11 1NR. Cheques payable to Unison ISS Whipps Cross Hardship Fund.


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    News
    Sat 21 Jun 2003, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1856
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