UNION MEMBERS at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital have provided a superb example of the solidarity 4,600 nursery nurses need as they approach six weeks of all-out strike action. The Unison union branch at the hospital donated £3,000 to the strike fund and activists are taking collection sheets round the wards.
The strike by nursery nurses in Scotland is at a critical stage as it continues over the Easter holidays. Talks between the Labour-dominated employers, COSLA, and Unison officials were due to take place on Wednesday. Local authority bosses in Scotland have been taken aback by the strength of the strike.
“But the employers are desperate not to come to a national agreement,” says Carol Ball, a nursery nurse and the strikers’ union convenor. “The support for the strike among nursery nurses is as strong as ever. The message we have got from national delegates’ meetings and from local mass meetings is that people want a decent national regrading and pay deal. “Getting that is now all about solidarity.”
The strike is in direct conflict with New Labour’s drive to break up national pay structures across Britain and to create division by local or performance related pay. “Other workers know what is at stake,” says Jill McNaughton, a striker from Dundee. That’s why wherever we have gone to get support it has been forthcoming. “That’s now got to be matched across the whole trade union movement. I think there should be a day of action across Scotland and a demonstration for people from across Britain. The employers just seem to be sitting it out, even though we know they don’t want the strike to continue into the third term. We don’t want to be on strike either. But we don’t want to settle for any old crap. Too much is at stake. And the level of involvement in the strike through picketing, marches and sending out delegations means we deserve to win.”
Activists are raising the call for a Scottish day of action in many unions. South of the border the media has maintained a disgraceful wall of silence over the largest all-out strike in Britain for over a decade. “The visits we have made to union branches have been vital in breaking that down and getting news about the strike out,” says Liz McCulloch, a striker from East Ayrshire. “At root this is about New Labour at Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and in local authorities trying to bully low paid workers out of what is rightfully ours. We are holding a Scottish-wide demonstration in Ayr on Tuesday next week. That should be the first of bigger actions after the Easter holiday.”
STRIKING NURSERY nurses were due to visit the National Union of Teachers’ conference in Harrogate this weekend to raise support. Increasing numbers of delegations of strikers are fanning out across Britain to raise money and solidarity for the strike. Last week delegations visited Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, where they raised £4,000, £1,000 and £800 respectively.
In Leeds they met other nursery nurses who are about to hold an indicative ballot for action over pay. Bin workers in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, listened, passed the collection bucket round the canteen and then went round the wagons to collect from drivers and crew.
In Sheffield 150 low paid education workers voted to hear the strikers at their union meeting. They donated nearly £100 and handed over a cheque for £100 from their hardship fund. The nursery nurses also got to address BBC Radio Sheffield. Every delegation of strikers returns to their workmates with the same story. People want to hear their case and donate money.
Whether it’s firefighters, low paid council workers, lecturers, teachers, civil servants or workers in any industry there is always a positive response and also bewilderment that there is little news about the dispute. The trade unions, with eight million members, have the power to transform that by spreading a simple message of solidarity.
WHILE MUCH of the media in Scotland is broadly supportive of the nursery nurses, some sections are doing their best to undermine their strike. The Glasgow Evening Times last week claimed the strike was crumbling and that Unison nationally was about to throw the towel in. It reported that it had heard from inside Unison’s industrial action committee-which authorises industrial action-that the union was pressurising the nursery nurses’ officials to abandon the strike.
Socialist Worker has learnt that that was news to members of the committee. They had not only agreed to back the strike on a nearly unanimous vote, they had also agreed to continue paying strike pay. And there was concern at the union’s national executive committee that Glasgow’s evening paper could have been allowed to carry the exact opposite of the truth. The nursery nurses’ strike is as strong as ever, whatever the press say.
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