Nursery Nurses: The Building Blocks of Struggle

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(285)

For eight weeks over 4,000 nursery nurses have been on all-out strike across Scotland.

This is the latest action in a fight for decent pay that has been going on for over two years. Prior to the strike the top rate of pay for a nursery nurse was £13,800. Despite ever increasing responsibilities, they had not been regraded for 16 years. Crucially the strike also became a battle for national pay and conditions after the association of local authorities in Scotland (Cosla) told nursery nurses that new deals would have to be settled with individual councils.

The strike action has been incredibly solid. The determination, spirit and creativity of the strikers has been a real inspiration. They have sung their way round demonstration after demonstration. Over 4,000 marched in Glasgow at the beginning of the strike. Over 2,000 demonstrated at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. When Cosla refused to come to the negotiating table to discuss a national deal, over 2,000 nursery nurses marched, with a table, to the Cosla offices. Over 1,000 marched through Ayr in the Easter holidays. In Glasgow there have been lots of unofficial demonstrations where strikers have been joined by parents and supporters.

The majority of parents have refused to cross picket lines and many have got involved in picketing or raising support. There have been big donations from many unions. In Glasgow these include thousands of pounds donated and collected by the FBU, £1,000 donation from the EIS teachers' union, which is the biggest donation that union activists can remember being given to any dispute.

A handful of strikers in Glasgow were able to organise over 250 nursery nurses to turn up to lobby first minister Jack McConnell at the Scottish TUC conference at less than a day's notice. Strikers across at least six councils have been involved in writing and distributing a weekly united left strike bulletin which helped counter rumours and misinformation and spread stories of solidarity.

Nursery nurses have spoken at meetings in London (including 2,000 people at a Libertines gig), Birmingham, Leeds and elsewhere. In Manchester they raised £4,000 in less than two days. Dundee nursery nurses alone have raised over £20,000 from delegation work.

While the rank and file strikers have grown in strength and confidence during the strike, their resolve and courage have not been matched by their own leadership. Many of the strikers had to battle their own branch leadership from the beginning. In Angus, for example, the strike was called off before it began and the nursery nurses had to fight for a vote to rejoin the strike. In Fife and elsewhere branch officials have tried to stop nursery nurses organising support and collecting. Unison has blocked calls for a national Saturday demonstration. Most disgracefully of all, Unison nationally has reversed its position of fighting for a national deal without even allowing nursery nurses or their delegates a vote. It announced to the press that it would be negotiating local deals before telling the strikers. At mass meetings Unison leaders have simply told strikers that this is the new policy. Nursery nurses have been stunned and angered by this about-turn. Forty strikers lobbied Unison's industrial action committee in Glasgow demanding to know why they had not had a vote on abandoning the fight for national pay.

As we go to press it remains to be seen exactly what sort of deals the nursery nurses will get. Unison has set a bottom line which means that local deals will be better than previous pay and conditions. Since Unison's about turn several mass meetings have rejected local deals, and in Fife 150 nursery nurses held a demonstration at the council offices where they all handed back their local offers. Networks of rank and file activists have emerged which can lay the basis for fighting for the best possible outcome and preventing future sell-outs.