By Kevin Ovenden
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All workers should back this strike

This article is over 20 years, 3 months old
'WE'RE INTO week five of our all-out strike and are even more determined to win than when we began.' That's what Carol Ball, union convenor of 4,600 striking nursery nurses, told Socialist Worker. She was speaking after a magnificent 3,000-strong rally in Edinburgh outside the headquarters of Cosla, the umbrella body of Scottish local authority employers. Strikers left an empty table outside the building.
Issue 1895

‘WE’RE INTO week five of our all-out strike and are even more determined to win than when we began.’ That’s what Carol Ball, union convenor of 4,600 striking nursery nurses, told Socialist Worker. She was speaking after a magnificent 3,000-strong rally in Edinburgh outside the headquarters of Cosla, the umbrella body of Scottish local authority employers. Strikers left an empty table outside the building.

It symbolised their willingness, and the employers’ refusal, to talk about a pay and regrading deal across Scotland. The employers may not be listening. But the strikers are getting their message out to the trade union movement across Britain.

This is the biggest official all-out strike for over a decade. Delegations of strikers are finding a huge groundswell of support wherever they go. ‘We always knew solidarity was crucial to the success of our strike,’ says Carol Ball. ‘The employers are under pressure. That’s why council after council are looking to local negotiations. But in area after area nursery nurses are reaffirming that we want a national settlement.’

There are many signs of employers feeling the pressure, even though they have yet to agree to come to a national deal. In one council, for example, bosses have contacted the union through go-betweens and back-door communications.

‘We think there is strong political pressure coming from the government on the employers not to settle,’ says Margaret Kopicki, a striker from Kirkcaldy. ‘They want to hold down everybody’s pay. That’s why everyone needs to get behind us.’

A delegation of strikers came to London for the second week in a row and collected £3,500 last week.

Another delegation in Birmingham raised £750. Dave Buckley, a Unison member who works at Birmingham City Council, told Socialist Worker, ‘We’d done a bucket collection on my building and raised £80. Now we are doing that across the council even though it was disappointing that the union’s committee narrowly voted not to give £1,000 to the strike fund.’

That decision was unique. Every other union body visited by the nursery nurses has given money. The conference of the university lecturers’ union, the AUT, gave £1,000 of union funds and delegates put in over £300 out of their own pockets.

More strikers are getting involved daily in raising solidarity and finding the experience exhilarating. And their union delegates are discussing holding a demonstration which supporters from other unions can join from across Britain. There is a great spirit and determination on nursery picket lines

‘We are proud that our strike is led by women’

LINDA and CAROL, two striking Scottish nursery nurses, visited London to raise solidarity last week. They talked to Socialist Worker about the dispute’s impact on their lives at an event organised to commemorate the 1984-5 miners’ strike.

Carol ‘When I hear people talk at meetings about the experience of the miners’ strike, I think history is repeating itself, especially when you hear what the miners’ wives went through and how it changed them. What we are going through is nothing like what the miners went through. We have only been out for four weeks, not a whole year. But our director of education has a kind of Thatcherite attitude. She thinks everyone not with her is an enemy to be put down and crushed. They want us to work to national standards, which is fair enough. But why won’t they give us a national pay deal?

We had ‘meaningful talks’ last week. The deal they came up with meant people like me would get 11p an hour more, while people like Linda get 22p an hour less. I must be missing something if the employers think that is meaningful-it’s an insult. They must think we were born yesterday. The strike has meant a big life change.

In some ways it’s harder than being at work because you are out at meetings and lobbies all the time. I never thought I would have the energy to be on the go like I have been during the strike. I never thought I would be on picket lines, chanting on demos and speaking at meetings.

The miners’ strike lost and that had repercussions for all trade unionists. I hope our strike can have repercussions in the opposite direction, by winning. Whatever happens with the dispute I feel we have already won something because we have made a stand.’

Linda ‘I have worked as a nursery nurse since I was 15 years old, 26 years ago, but I can only earn just over £13,000. We are facing a tiny bit of what the miners faced in 1984, a small taste of the same intimidation. There is one woman working at our nursery.

We haven’t done so much as call her a scab so far, but they say it is us who are intimidating. One of us was accused of causing a riot for standing outside a nursery with two other pickets. I never thought in a million years that we would be speaking at meetings in London.

It’s very much like the way people described the miners’ wives changing from just worrying about their own families to thinking about wider issues. On the plane on the way down from Scotland we were still writing out what we wanted to say.

We thought they announced it was 40 minutes to landing but it was only 14 minutes so we were really panicking. But the response we have had from people has been fantastic. We feel energised and inspired by it. All these people we have never met collecting money for us, caring about what happens to us-it’s brilliant.

Not a single person has said to us, ‘You just wipe bums and noses, so what do you want a pay rise for?’ People seem to understand that we are looking after society’s most precious resource, the future. I am proud that our strike is a female-led strike.

We don’t want to be out as long as the miners were, but we are determined not to give in.’

Parents sign up for their picketing duties

by Mark Brown

PARENTS AT Westercraigs Nursery School in Dennistoun, Glasgow, held their own picket line last Monday morning in a brilliant show of solidarity with the striking nursery nurses. The strikers had to be in Edinburgh for a Unison rally, so parents volunteered to take over picketing duties.

Glasgow’s Labour council had reopened the nursery the previous week, using the head teacher, a head from another nursery and a non-union, scab nursery nurse brought in from outside. In letters from the head teacher, selected parents were offered a ‘restricted service’, being provided for just ten children. Due to the consistent picketing by the nursery nurses and the tremendous backing from parents, this attempt to break the strike has fallen on its face.

There were seven parents on Monday’s picket line. Only two children were taken into the nursery. Displaying a Unison ‘Official picket’ placard, the upbeat parent pickets collected £13 in strike donations from local parents doing their school runs. A photographer from the Daily Mirror came along to take pictures of the solidarity action.

Adrienne Egan, who came up with the idea of the parents’ picket line, told Socialist Worker, ‘I was disappointed and disgusted to discover that the head teacher wasn’t supporting them, when she had led us to believe she was. I realised the importance of us, as parents, being on the picket line especially because the nursery nurses said they had to be in Edinburgh for the rally.’

In another superb display of support, members of the Dennistoun branch of the Scottish Socialist Party were joined by a local nursery nurse and together they collected £120 for the strikers at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

  • The nursery nurses urgently need money to continue their fight. Make cheques payable to ‘Nursery Nurses’ Campaign Fund’ and send them to Unison, 14 West Campbell Street, Glasgow G2 6RX. If you would like to invite a nursery nurse to speak at your union meeting, phone 07986 422 203.
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