THE MAGNIFICENT all-out strike of 4,500 nursery nurses across Scotland is still going strong in its eighth week. The strikers, members of the Unison union, are fighting for a decent national pay deal from COSLA, the Labour-dominated local employers. Scottish nursery nurses voted to continue their action at a meeting on Tuesday of this week.
Margaret Grady, a nursery nurse in Glasgow, told Socialist Worker on Tuesday, "There are 200 of us protesting outside the Scottish TUC conference today because Jack McConnell, New Labour's first minister in Scotland, is speaking. "Nursery nurses are very angry with the way the Scottish Executive has treated us and feel that McConnell could have done much more.
"All he's said is that it's a 'national disgrace' that the strike's gone on so long. But he's in a position to do something about that. The support from delegates to the STUC has been excellent. We have a just case. Our wages haven't been looked at for 16 years. We haven't taken this step lightly. We have had solidarity messages from across the world. It's a fantastic morale-booster. Some of us have gone round Britain speaking at meetings to get solidarity. At the beginning of the strike people didn't really want to do it, but now everyone will. People have become more confident and angry as the strike has gone on. Even after eight weeks the determination is still there. We are continuing to picket our workplaces. We are determined to win. I'd like to thank everyone for the support we've had and I hope it continues. Keep the money and support coming in. We need it."
Jill McNaughton, a striking nursery nurse from Dundee, told Socialist Worker, "We're still very solid and united. We are not ready to back down. We are going to fight it out. This is our eighth week of indefinite strike action. It's getting hard for people because they have bills to pay and children to feed. But we are still solid. We are getting tremendous support and solidarity from all over the country. We are also getting a lot of support from parents affected by the strike. Parents in Dundee lobbied our council on Monday because they are fed up of it. The employers are refusing to back down, but so are we."
Strikers were boosted on Monday when actor and director Peter Mullan, RMT rail union leader Bob Crow and Scottish Socialist Party MSP Tommy Sheridan all showed their support for the nursery nurses. They joined a nursery nurses' picket outside the Govan Family Learning Centre in Glasgow.
Peter Mullan said, "There is a lot more commitment, energy and talent needed to be a nursery nurse than an MSP. Let Jack McConnell try it for a day and see how he gets on." The mood among the strikers is still determined.
They want a national settlement that recognises the 15 years of change and increased responsibility they have taken on as a result of national curriculum targets and initiatives. The employers had hoped that the combination of the empty monthly pay packet followed by the two-week Easter break would sap that determination.
In a spiteful tactic, employers are refusing to pay nursery nurses who have been on long-term sickness unless they write a letter dissociating themselves from the dispute.
Despite the bosses' efforts, nursery nurses have been buoyed by the great support they've had from parents, the public and fellow trade unionists. The dispute is at a crucial stage. There are worries that, despite the determination of the strikers, the current moves could lead to a suspension of the strikes for talks with little on offer.
It is vital that everything is done to mobilise the huge support for nursery nurses. The TUC and STUC should organise a demonstration on a Saturday where workers from different unions can all show their solidarity and keep the pressure on the councils and central government.
Cool reception for Labour's message
THE SCOTTISH Trade Union Congress, which met in Glasgow this week, saw little warmth for New Labour. Alan Brown, a PCS civil servants' union delegate, told Socialist Worker, "Andy Kerr, the Scottish finance minister, addressed the conference on Monday. What he said was bad news for public services. He said that another percent on public sector wages would mean an extra £100 million. But how many bombs in Iraq is that? It is a choice and New Labour has chosen to continue with the war agenda. His speech was not well received. The applause was muted. It is quite different for New Labour at union conferences these days. They are not getting the same kind of response they got in the past. There is no big support for New Labour.
A lot of unions are waking up to the fact that New Labour is attacking working people. Unions like the RMT, that are making a stand and were expelled by Labour, are getting a better response than New Labour speakers. The congress passed a motion supporting the nursery nurses and public services. Speakers made references to the nursery nurses which were all well received. There was also a motion unanimously passed calling on the STUC to oppose the BNP and fascism. The motion calls for unions to actively campaign against fascism."
STUC president Sandy Boyle attacked the Blair government for its "unnecessary and illegal" warmongering in Iraq.
Boyle said, "If at the drop of a hat you can find billions of pounds to fight a war in Iraq, then you can find money to pay the firefighters, health service workers, teachers, nursery nurses and other public servants.
He attacked the "Bush-Sharon axis" and demanded that they "demolish the wall and give top priority to the creation of a sovereign, viable, democratic Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. He also said that ministers should "stop pandering to the xenophobia of the right wing press" on asylum seekers.