A MAGNIFICENT 4,500-strong demonstration through Glasgow has kept the nursery nurses' all-out strike in the headlines across Scotland. The demo also blew a hole in employers' propaganda that the strike is losing public support and crumbling. Mary McIntyre from West Dunbartonshire, a nursery nurse for 20 years, told Socialist Worker on last Friday's march:
'We ended the week even stronger in our area than we started it. I never believed it would be this strong.' The strike, by nearly 5,000 appallingly low paid workers, entered its second week this Monday. It is the biggest industrial dispute in Britain.
Strikers have thrown themselves into picketing, protesting and building support. Now they need solidarity to force Labour-dominated local authorities to grant a decent pay rise. 'Virtually every one of our members who is on strike must be here,' Dave Prentis, general secretary of the Unison union, told Socialist Worker on Friday's demonstration. 'Their energy and spirit shows just how determined they are. They want to be able to care for children, and striking is a last resort. But it's time the employers started caring for them too.'
There is immense anger among nursery nurses that the very councillors who refuse to talk about giving them a decent national pay deal are discussing giving themselves £25,000 a year.
'If it's OK for councillors to be paid £25,000 for boring the arse off each other, then it's good enough for you,' Prentis told the rally at the end of the march. Unison's president, Dave Anderson, denounced Labour councils for using 'Thatcherite tactics that were used against the miners 20 years ago'. He continued, 'Get out across the union and the wider labour movement because they will show solidarity and support you. We are writing to all the union's regional secretaries asking them to set up networks so people can get round the rest of Britain and get the support and money in.'
Janie Sharpe from Inverclyde said, 'Our local council has been fighting a propaganda war, spending god knows how much on letters to parents and on the media. But their supposedly great local deal would actually leave us 10p an hour worse off. Who would accept that? The council tried to get a voluntary sector provider, Childcare Enterprise, to break our strike. They said they would not take any of the children we normally look after. We've already had enough and now they come along with these dirty tricks. Well, we won't back down. We are holding local protests and getting parents involved. They have been overwhelmingly on our side.'
The nursery nurses' union convenor Carol Ball tore apart the employers' claims at the rally. She explained how it's been nearly 16 years since the nursery nurses were last regraded and two and a half years since they submitted their claim.
That is for pay starting on about £14,000 a year and ending on £18,000. 'It works out at £9.53 and hour rising to £11.94 an hour at the top of the grade,' she said. 'The employers' response is to offer us £7.35 rising to £9.33. Their top doesn't even reach our bottom.' Speakers at the rally endorsed the call for a lobby of the Scottish Parliament on Thursday of this week. That's when Scottish Socialist Party members of the parliament had secured an 'adjournment' debate to call for support for the nursery nurses' case.
Council bosses boast they have forced through local settlements in nine out of Scotland's 32 councils. 'But they only cover about 350 out of the nearly 5,000 nursery nurses who are in Unison,' Carol Ball told Socialist Worker. 'This strike is big, effective and solid.'
And many nursery nurses in those councils that have settled are unhappy with the provisional settlement they have got. One, from South Lanarkshire, says there could be a majority of nursery nurses who want to rejoin the national fight: 'We were pulled out of it by the branch officials, who didn't consult us properly.'
The nursery nurses' strength has left the employers desperately lashing out at the strikers. In North Lanarkshire they blockaded the doors of the council buildings and called the police when striking nursery nurses lobbied.
Glasgow council is shipping working staff around to get some nurseries open. But still the strike is solid and large numbers of parents are refusing to cross picket lines. 'The parents have been great,' says Joyce Alexander from Budhill Family Learning Centre in Glasgow. 'We have to keep up our picketing and go out to get the support. With backing we can win.'
'I don't have any choice,' says Kelly O'Rourke, who has been a nursery nurse for three and a half years and works at Belhaven nursery in Glasgow. I either fight, or I go back to a job that I won't be able to afford to do. I already do three jobs-full time nursery nurse, weekends for a catering company, and childminding at night. It works out at 70 hours a week. Still I can't pay the bills. It shouldn't be like this. Public sector employees should get proper pay. And we are going to fight for it.'
Support the nursery nurses' picket lines and protests.