OVER 4,500 nursery nurses in Scotland are set to begin an all-out indefinite strike on Monday following a magnificent four to one vote. The action pits some of the lowest paid workers in education in Britain against predominantly Labour local authority employers. The fight over pay and regrading is crucial for public sector workers and beyond.
It is also a test of whether the mood to resist, expressed in successive union elections, can break through into serious gains. COSLA, the umbrella organisation of councils in Scotland, stuck the boot into the nursery nurses and their union, Unison, at the weekend. A leaked COSLA report accused the nursery nurses' pay claim of being 'blatantly unfair'.
'What do they know of fairness?' one nursery nurse with 25 years experience told Socialist Worker. 'I am on £13,900 a year. It isn't enough to live on. 'That's what I call unfair. No one wants to strike. But we are determined to end this pay insult and to get resources into education.' The COSLA report accused Unison of calling for nursery nurses working 39 weeks a year to be paid the same as those doing 52 weeks.
'That is just untrue,' says Carol Ball, chair of Unison's nursery nurse working party.
'Our claim has always recognised the difference between the two groups. 'What we are calling for is those employed on less than a full year to be paid pro rata. That is, by anybody's standard, fair. There is determination and a lot of anger among our members over the way they have been treated. Even at this late stage we are calling on the employers to come up with a national offer that could be the basis of a settlement. But, by their behaviour so far, we are not hopeful they will. That means we are calling on people-other trade unionists and parents-to get behind us and put even more pressure on the employers.'
She was speaking before a meeting on Tuesday of two nursery nurses and a union officer from every Unison local government branch in Scotland. It decided to go ahead with the strike from next Monday. Liz McCulloch, a nursery nurse from Ayrshire, told Socialist Worker, 'There's been a lot of involvement from nursery nurses ourselves in this dispute and that should continue. It's fair to say going all out is daunting. But we were all surprised by just how high the vote was for it-81 percent on a 68 percent turnout. It is going to be much harder for the employers to cope with this action. They could end it by agreeing to come to a decent national deal. Everyone is appalled when they find out how little we are paid. We have been given more responsibilities over the years, but pay has stood still. It is now an impossible position. We are going to take our case out to the public and to other workers. With their help, I believe we can win.'
'Solidarity is vital,' says Arthur Nicoll, services and conditions secretary of Unison in Dundee. 'We need the stickers, badges and collection sheets out everywhere. Our branch decided not to wait for them to come centrally, and just to get on with it. There should be a clear lead from the top. But no one should hold back. The one-day strikes over the last ten months were made by the strength and imagination of the nursery nurses. Now's the time to unleash that, build solidarity and show the councils that we won't be pushed around.'