Socialist Worker

Nursery nurses deserve Timex-style solidarity

Issue No. 1896

THE SCOTTISH nursery nurse dispute has reminded activists like myself of the tremendous energy, endeavour, imagination, determination and inspiration of the Timex strike some 12 years ago. The Timex strikers were another group of mostly women workers who showed no regard for the accepted limitations of trade union struggle.

Just as Timex dispelled the defeatism expressed in failures to fight closures and job cuts in the period running up to it, the current dispute has reopened the possibility of industrial militancy in public services. For years there has been a complete failure by any of the large public sector unions to launch a national campaign against New Labour's agenda of cuts and privatisation. The anger and frustration that has built up among workers in, and users of, those services has at last found expression in support for the nursery nurses' brave stand.

The tremendous solidarity and warmth shown to nursery nurses, both locally and across Britain, demonstrates the tremendous mood there is to support anyone prepared to stand up to Blair and his cronies. But the Scottish TUC have been remarkably restrained in the support they have given the dispute. I remember calls to support Timex strikers mobilised thousands who adopted the dispute as a cause celebre.

I remember crowds of people falling half-asleep out of coaches and buses from London, Brighton or Cardiff. They didn't know exactly where Dundee was, but they wanted to be involved in a struggle that had connected with them.

The nursery nurse dispute has captured the imagination of ordinary workers across Britain in a similar way. What's missing is the support from the Scottish TUC and the TUC in the form of similar mobilisations-such as a national day of action. Moving into their sixth week of all-out indefinite action, nursery nurses have surely earned that support and with it the nursery nurses can win.

Arthur Nicoll, Dundee

Raise political issues

IN FRANCE'S elections the mainstream left won 50 percent of the vote and 21 out of 22 regions-a real redwash. But there are worrying signs. Although the Nazi National Front didn't win the earth, as Le Pen had promised, they did win around 15 percent. Secondly, the revolutionary left, the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire and Lutte Ouvriere, which had joined forces, only got around 4 percent in the first round.

Unfortunately, much of the revolutionary left argued that to defend secular education and women's rights the Muslim hijab veil must be banned from schools. This led to the tragedy of young Muslim women marching alone without the support of the left. Imagine if the Stephen Lawrence demonstrations had had only black people-how would they have been portrayed in the press? A key lesson is that workers' solidarity needs the fight against racism.

Gavern Bennett, Paris

Is Kerry anti-war?

THOSE WHO believe socialists must back Democratic candidate John Kerry for US president should note what he has been saying. Left wing Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez greeted Kerry as a friend. Kerry replied by saying Chavez's policies, and his friendship with Fidel Castro, were 'detrimental to US interests'.

Kerry also demanded that the new Spanish prime minister reconsider his promise to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq and let 'the terrorists know they cannot win by their acts of terror'.

Kevin Murray, Wolverhampton

Union beats the varsity blues

McWARWICK University has a reputation for leading market initiatives in education. This 'entrepreneurial' activity involves assessing every aspect of university life on the basis of what profit can be made.

On top of the obvious campus shopping mall and conference business, other services such as renting halls of residence back to students, finding temporary jobs for students and printing and photocopying all have to make a profit towards funds for the university.

In this atmosphere of the free market, where students are 'customers', it's good to know good old-fashioned trade unionism is thriving. Not only did we run picket lines of 60 to 70 people during our recent strike action, our boycott of assessed work and exam questions was really beginning to bite. As union secretary, to be selected for redundancy during this action in a bid to increase profit for my department was an astonishing act of victimisation.

I won national backing from my trade union conference last week and received messages of support from universities all over the country. My own union branch was launching a campaign when-I won!

The university has reconsidered its position and I have got my job back. Collective action and solidarity won over the need for more profit.

Penny Hicks, Coventry

Voting matters

LESSONS CAN be learnt from a recent local election in Calne, Wiltshire. The British National Party (BNP) candidate increased his share of the vote from 16 percent to 18.5 percent, pushing New Labour into fourth place. However, the total number of votes cast for the Nazis fell from 110 to 86. Some of the credit for this can go a leafleting campaign mounted by Unite Against Fascism and some local people.

The threat is not just from people voting Nazi, but from the huge numbers who simply feel there is no point voting. That's why a campaign that says 'Vote, but don't vote for Nazis' is so crucial.

Denis Wise, Bristol

The army ripped up my rights

I WORKED as a security guard for the Ministry of Defence in Germany for 14 years. We were never shown our contracts of employment. But the army was stealing money from us. They refused to pay us for the hours we were at work.

We should have been getting paid overtime for our extended hours, but they wouldn't pay it so I took them to court. I wasn't even allowed to speak in court. My solicitor went on holiday and sent a stand-in who didn't say anything more than his name.

The judge ruled that, because I walk to work, the army didn't have to pay me for working unsociable hours. But some of the men I worked with lived 90 kilometres away and they didn't get unsociable hours payments either. I defy anyone to walk 90 kilometres for work. I was sacked from my job and lost my army accommodation. Now I am 47 and unemployed and I might never work again.

There is nowhere I can appeal to now. To me, this shows that the European Constitution will be a sham. It will only serve to protect governments against workers and oppress citizens.

Michael Smith, Germany

Your view...

MP pension hypocrisy

STEVE, A bus driver from east London, challenged transport minister Alistair Darling to admit his pension is protected at a recent 'Big Conversation'. In fact, MPs enjoy a 'platinum' pension, offering 75 percent of final salary.

There is a £25 million deficit between the 'funding' of the parliamentary pension and its cost. The difference is 'remedied' by an anticipatory clawback from the next Seminar Salaries Review Committee in two years time. I believe that in 2002 MPs received a 41 percent pay/pension increase.

D Shepherd, Hendon

Do we need red unions?

WHY DON'T the Socialist Workers Party have their own trade union or perhaps a revolutionary equivalent to the TUC? I want to join a union, but I want to join one that is truly working to bring about the end of capitalism.

John Keeley, Canterbury

No excuse for this flirting

In Reply to the letter defending Morrissey in last week's Socialist Worker I think Morrissey wrapping himself up in the British flag and singing about a boy going to a National Front disco displays sympathy with the National Front. Maybe this wasn't so overt-which is why he could be described as flirting with fascism.

Any fascist organisation-the BNP or the National Front-has as its main aim the crushing of freedom and working class organisation. A song about a boy going to a National Front disco rouses sympathy with an organisation who believe in a master race and all the menace that goes with it.

Sophie, Kent

Intimidation won't stop us

MOST FRIDAYS there will be someone from Stop the War or the Socialist Workers Party outside both Crawley mosques, leafleting, inviting people to meetings or petitioning. Usually we are greeted with warmth and often invited inside. This week we were alarmed to see police cars in the car park and TV cameras outside the gates. People were going in with their heads down.

However, when the worshippers came out from the mosque, several people signed the 'Troops out of Iraq' petition and took Respect leaflets. One function of the arrests in Crawley is to try and intimidate Muslims out of political activity.

Muriel Hirsch, Crawley SWP

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Article information

Sat 10 Apr 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1896
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