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Scottish nursery nurses
Strikers Say No To Low Pay
ONE OF Scotland's most significant disputes for many years has escalated dramatically recently. Almost 5,000 nursery nurses, overwhelmingly women, are in their second week of all-out strike across Scotland's local authorities.
After ten months of selective action a massive 81% voted to go on indefinite strike. This has shaken the employers who calculated that these low paid women workers would never support an all-out strike and would be forced into accepting the pitiful local deals being offered. How wrong they were!
UNISON and the nursery nurses are fighting for a national deal that would give a £14,000 starting salary for a nursery nurse, rising to £18,000 depending on the number of years worked.
The employers are Scotland's local councils whose national body is the New Labour-dominated Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA). CoSLA rejected nursery nurses' demands for a national pay and conditions agreement. They want local deals to be struck by each of Scotland's 32 councils. This is designed to undermine national pay and bargaining rights.
CoSLA's suggested "framework" for resolving the dispute would increase the number of hours worked by a nursery nurse for a paltry wage rise. It would leave nursery nurses on a lower hourly rate than they are on now. This has outraged nursery nurses.
So far local deals have been signed in only nine out of the 32 Scottish councils. Significantly, some local councils recently conceded significant improvements in nursery nurses' pay. Despite this, almost 90% of nursery nurses in Scotland are involved in the indefinite strike action.
"We Won't Settle For 32 Different Deals"
STRIKING NURSERY nurse Jill McNaughton who works in Dundee, told the socialist.
"I started working as a nursery nurse when I left school. That was 19 years ago.
"I studied for three years at college for two qualifications in working with children in early years education.
"At the moment I work in a classroom with primary one children alongside a teacher. My annual salary is £13,800. That's the maximum we can earn. A nursery nurse's starting salary is £10,000. We have been underpaid for years and yet we have taken on more and more responsibilities with no increase in our salary that recognises that.
"The employers have backed us into a corner and left us with no option but to go on all-out strike action. They had adequate opportunities over the last ten months when strike action was at a minimum to settle the dispute. They failed to take notice and underestimated our determination and strength.
"All we are asking for is a recognition of the services and responsibilities that we've taken on since we were last regraded 15 years ago. And we want a national pay structure that reflects those responsibilities.
"CoSLA's attitude is disgraceful. Nursery nurses work to a national curriculum set by the Scottish executive. It's the same education and curriculum no matter what council you work for. So why don't they give us a national deal?
"Why should a nursery nurse in Glasgow get a different wage rate from a nursery nurse in Dundee when we are doing the same job? This is a fight for a national agreement and we won't settle for 32 different deals.
"WE KNOW it's going to be hard but our spirits are high because of the massive support from parents, carers and the public. We've had parents visit the picket lines to bring toast and tea, rolls and so on. One parent came down with £60 he had collected for our strike.
"The solidarity from other workers and trade unionists has been brilliant. Thousands of pounds have been raised so far for our hardship fund.
"I've seen children open their purses and donate their pocket money in our buckets when we were out collecting money.
"There is money coming in from factories and workplaces and other trade unions. It's a real boost to our morale to see the public support for our fight.
"I support the idea of a one-day strike of public-sector workers to support our campaign and to fight low pay generally. If we can be treated like this by the government and the employers then every worker could face the same.
"We should appeal to the teachers, janitors and other council workers to come out in support of us and in defence of education and public services. I don't know whether we will get it but it's important nursery nurses are not left to fight alone.
"This strike has already changed my political views. I used to vote Labour in every election but not anymore. Never again. Many of the nursery nurses I know say they will be voting socialist next time.
"My friend Lorraine was never even in the union before this strike started. Now she is so angry that she's on the picket line, marching and singing on the demonstrations. I never believed two years ago I would find myself standing on a picket line and collecting money in a bucket. But that's what CoSLA and the government have done to us.
"The last straw for us was when we heard that CoSLA had gone to the Scottish executive to ask for councillors to be paid a national salary of over £25,000 regardless of which local council they represent. Yet they have the cheek to tell us we're not worth a national deal with a starting salary of £14,000. It just makes us more determined to win."
Scottish nursery nurses will be touring London next week. If you want a speaker, ring Bill Mullins on 020 8988 8764.
Demo Shows Public Back Strikers
LAST FRIDAY, 5 March, up to 4,000 defiant nursery nurses, parents and supporters demonstrated on Glasgow's streets for a decent pay deal. The protest marked the fifth day of indefinite strike action by Scotland's nursery nurses.
The nursery nurses have been subjected to a week of scare-mongering in the media by politicians, CoSLA (their employers, Scotland's councils) and department heads. These people all hoped that public opinion, in particular parents of children in the nurseries, would turn against these workers.
They completely underestimated not only the nursery nurses' resolve but the widespread support for these women. The demonstration clearly showed that support and determination. There were banners and placards from across the country, not just from UNISON, but from other unions, parents and children many of whom had made their own.
A rally at the end had speakers from many different unions but the best response was for speakers from the firefighters' union FBU and for an ex-miner. The FBU speaker called this demonstration one of the most determined, noisy and colourful he had witnessed for a long time.
He also announced that the FBU has, so far, raised £13,000 for the strikers!
20 years to the day since the national miners' strike started in Cortonwood colliery in Yorkshire (see centre pages), the ex-miner got a rapturous applause. Many of these nursery nurses are looking at the lessons of that strike and how it relates to them.
If the mood of this demo and indeed the public response is anything to go by then COSLA and the councils are in for a real battle. A victory for these women will send a real message to other low-paid workers, in particular women, that if you fight you can win.
In The Socialist 13 March 2004:
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party review
Socialist Party women
International socialist news and analysis