Socialist Worker

'We're going back but battle goes on'

Issue No. 1905

GLASGOW'S Labour-run council has used the worst rogue employer tactics to force 700 striking nursery nurses back to work. It threatened to sack every one of the low paid workers last week using Labour's notorious anti-union law that allows an employer to dismiss strikers after eight weeks of action.

When bosses at the Friction Dynamics and William Cook companies did this the workers' cases rightly became causes throughout the union movement. Leaders of all the major unions denounced management as appalling employers. They should do the same now over Glasgow City Council. Margaret Grady is one of the nursery nurses who took part in the courageous 14-week strike. She gives her view of what it meant:

'It is an absolute scandal that Glasgow council used these bullyboy tactics. You can see they are shame-faced because now they are denying they ever threatened to sack us. But our union officials were told that and we received a letter that had strong hints of that threat. I am so proud of all the nursery nurses who fought this strike.

Over 500 voted last week to go back reluctantly. About 90 of us voted to stay out. We could see it was intimidation. In no way am I saying anything negative about those who voted to go back. It's only contact with other people during the strike that gave the minority the confidence to vote to stay out. There's nothing special about us.

Most people felt they had no choice, and that's what the union effectively said. We have learnt so much in the course of the last three months. It's certainly true that if we knew at the beginning what we know now things could have been different.

I and other nursery nurses have had a wonderful experience over the course of this strike, despite the hardship and the knockbacks. We never knew we collectively had the strength we did. I am much more aware than I was before. We've learnt a lot about the union. You find that some officials are not on your side in the way they say they are. You get to see who delivers support and who does not. You find out who your real friends are.

One thing this has done is draw nursery nurses together across Scotland. That meant at key stages we were able to communicate with each other and let people know what was really going on. That was crucial to stopping attempts to divide us or to get us to go back empty-handed.

If I could change anything, it would be that we should have done all that much earlier. The strikers never let themselves down. But we didn't get the national backing we needed. There was no national levy by our Unison union. That meant it was down to individual activists and branches organising solidarity. That was welcome and kept us going. But it should have been national.

We passed resolution after resolution calling for the STUC to organise a national demonstration and a day of action. It is a scandal that that never happened. There is no point half putting pressure on the employers and the Scottish Executive.

They should have felt the full force of everything we could throw at them. We've learnt how manoeuvres happen, and why it is ordinary union members who need to take things into our hands. We're going back and the battle is going to continue.

We want to resist attempts to get us to take on extra duties. Scottish first minister Jack McConnell has said there will be a national review of our pay and conditions.

We intend to hold him to that. The links we've built among ourselves and with others are as important as ever. We are still united and I for one feel stronger than I did three months ago. I'd like to thank everyone who supported us. The collections and solidarity were magnificent. They weren't wasted, because we will, I'm sure, need to fight again. We have all this experience to build on.

Every striker can feel proud. That's more than can be said for the councillors and the Scottish Executive. Finally, I don't know a single nursery nurse who planned to vote Labour this week.'

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Thu 10 Jun 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1905
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