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Nursery nurses need your support

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Kevin Ovenden spoke to low paid workers taking on New Labour in the biggest indefinite strike for many years
Issue 1891

STRIKING NURSERY nurses were greeted with a wave of support from parents and the public. But they received staggering contempt from their employers, COSLA-the Labour-dominated Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities. ‘We are in a decisive dispute,’ says Carol Ball, the Unison union convenor of the nursery nurses’ campaign. ‘All we want is for COSLA to talk to us about a national deal. Yet it’s come to an all-out strike. We are calling for support from across the movement.’

‘It’s been 15 years since we were regraded,’ said Anne Donald, picketing the Holmlea nursery in Glasgow on Monday. ‘It’s been nearly five years since nursery nurses set up a working party to look at pay. It’s been two and a half years since we began our claim. Now our patience has worn thin. No one wants to be on strike. We want to be working with the children. None of us can afford to lose a day’s pay. I’m getting married in October and we’ve been trying to save up. But I have absolutely no qualms about doing this. We deserve a bit of respect and recognition. And we are going to fight for it.’

At that point parent John Donaldson, who has two children at the nursery, comes up to offer support. ‘The councillors should come to a settlement now,’ he says. ‘I totally support the action the nursery nurses are taking. They do a brilliant job and the pay they are on is nothing short of a scandal.’

Despite the best efforts of much of the media, there was no hiding the level of support for the action. Radio phone-in shows across Scotland revealed majority backing for the nursery nurses. In Dundee the lord provost (mayor) of the council was humiliated on radio when he accused a nursery nurse of masquerading under a false name and then had to withdraw the slur.

The scene at Clutha Street day nursery in Glasgow was played out in many other areas. Eight striking nursery nurses were inundated with hoots of support from passing cars as they waved placards on the side of the main road. ‘We are all out here,’ said Heather Ritchie. ‘And we are staying out until we win.’

‘We want everyone who can to be there on our demonstration this Friday,’ said Karen Thompson. ‘We’re having a meeting here-the strikers at this nursery-to organise getting support in the area. The parents are brilliant. They are on our side.’ ‘The employers are going to get nasty,’ said Heather. ‘But I don’t believe they will get away with it.’

Suzanne Marshall added, ‘There are vulnerable children in this city who do not have a nursery place in normal times. That’s the council’s fault. It’s disgusting. Our parents see through that. What we need is every bit of support-moral and financial-to keep this action going.’

‘The employers are spreading lies’

ALAN MELVILLE is a nursery nurse in Edinburgh. He said, ‘When people hear the truth, the support is even greater. The employers are spreading lies, saying we have been offered £21,000 a year. We start on ten and a half thousand, and the top of our scale is £13,896.

Does anyone really believe there would be a strike or even a complaint if we had been offered £21,000? But the lies are typical of the way we have been treated. We are in this to win now. On Monday morning there were 40 of us picketing a nursery in the ward of the councillor who deals with personnel issues. The strike is solid.

We are not leaving it at that. Educating young children requires a lot of imagination. And we are bringing that imagination to our strike.’


Picket lines take effect

MANY NURSERIES are closed or have every union member out. But strategic picketing is crucial. Employers in East Ayrshire tried to isolate a key union activist, Liz McCulloch, by pressuring every other union member to work.

The union responded by picketing the Onthank nursery with strikers from other nurseries, some of whom had worked with those who said they were going in. It worked. The only person who went in on Monday was someone who broke every one-day strike over the last ten months. ‘She was the one who was isolated, not me,’ says Liz.

Every union member was on strike at the Kinning Park nursery in Glasgow. They picketed. All 30 parents on Monday refused to cross the picket line. Catherine Gilmour’s son Darren has been at the nursery for only a week. She said, ‘The justice of the nursery nurses’ case is overwhelming. Darren has fitted in here in such a short time. Of course there is now disruption. But that’s the council’s fault. I’m not going to do anything to undermine the nursery nurses’ action.’

Parents’ solidarity

The Dundee Unison union branch organised a 50-strong meeting for parents two days before the strike began. The meeting backed the strikers and set up a parents support group. Pamela Courtney told Socialist Worker, ‘I know the kind of guilt the nursery nurses will be put through for taking action. But public services need investment and can’t be expected to run on goodwill-that doesn’t pay the bills. Parents have got to get together and turn our fire on the councillors and the employers. We are key to the nursery nurses winning and that will be a step forward for all of us.’

Building the strike

Employers shaken

REPORTS FROM the 24 councils where nursery nurses are on indefinite strike show the strike this week rocked the employers. A discussion paper which was leaked last week acknowledged that they may have to come to a national settlement-the nursery nurses’ key demand. But it said they would wait to see how the strike went. ‘That shows it is them who are playing politics with children’s futures,’ says Liz McCulloch from East Ayrshire. ‘But it also shows we can win.’

‘The strike in Edinburgh is as solid as the days of action have been,’ says John Stevenson, the Unison branch secretary there. The same was true in Dundee, Glasgow and every other area, giving the lie to employers’ claims that the strike was crumbling even as it began. Strikers and their supporters are also taking key steps to strengthen the strike and intensify the pressure on the employers.

Strengthening the action

STRIKERS FROM Dundee went to a meeting of nursery nurses in neighbouring Angus on Monday night. ‘Dundee has been very strong over the ten months of the dispute,’ says Arthur Nicol, Unison conditions of service secretary in the city. ‘Nursery nurses here wanted to go to Angus to spread that confidence. The better organised areas everywhere can do something similar.’

‘The drive for this has come from delegate meetings of nursery nurses,’ says Liz McCulloch. ‘In an all-out strike it’s very important to keep the momentum up every day and to involve everyone. Let’s not forget that there are many nursery nurses in the eight branches that have settled locally who are unhappy with the deals they’ve got and want to be part of national action. We need to get the message to them that the strike is winning.’


THE NURSERY nurses get £15 a day official strike pay. Solidarity through donations is crucial to ensure the strike does not fail through lack of money. Striking university lecturers donated nearly £1,000 out of their own pockets last week. The Fire Brigades Union has given £5,000. A collection at Dundee United’s home game on Sunday brought in £400.

News of the victory last year by nursery nurses in Tower Hamlets, east London, has spread throughout Scotland. There is a groundswell of support for the strike waiting to be tapped throughout Britain, particularly in councils. Collections are already up and running in some areas. What’s needed now is a massive wave of solidarity.

Demonstrate in support of the nursery nurses Friday 5 March (2004), 1pm, Blythswood Square, Glasgow. Called by Unison.

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