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Scotland: Nursery Nurses Fight On
AFTER TEN weeks of all-out action there are still 2,500 nursery nurses on strike in Scotland. Nursery nurses who are organised in UNISON have put up a magnificent fight to achieve their demands: a wage that recognises the increased responsibilities they have taken on as pre-school educators.
Jim McFarlane, Dundee UNISON, personal capacity
With half of Scotland's nursery nurses still on strike, including in the big authorities like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fife, this struggle is still very much a live one. So far 21 of the 32 local authorities have signed local agreements. The employers have been forced to make important concessions in a number of areas, especially where there was all-out action.
In Dundee for example, after eight weeks of all-out strike nursery nurses have agreed a deal where the wage for a fully qualified nursery nurse rises from £13,800 to £16,100. That's a rise to £10.10 an hour, based on an increase in the working week from 32.5 hours to 35 hours.
Only three weeks before the deal was signed, Dundee City council had made their "final, final offer" of a maximum wage of £15,100. The determination and resolve of the nursery nurses forced the employer to concede more.
It underlines the fact that determined action can win concessions. The best deal so far in Scotland is in East Dunbartonshire where nursery nurses will be paid £16,900 a year or £10.46 an hour. Glasgow nursery nurses and others still on strike are demanding the East Dunbartonshire deal.
The original claim was for a Scotland-wide pay and conditions package. Nursery nurses rightly demanded the same pay no matter what council they worked for. They work to a national curriculum and guidelines.
But the employers insisted that 32 local deals would have to be struck. For nearly a year, involving a series of limited one, two and three-day strikes and then a massive 80% vote for an all-out strike, nursery nurses were united on the basis of fighting for a national deal.
There was therefore massive anger amongst nursery nurses at the proposal of the Scottish UNISON leadership, accepted by the branch national delegate meeting (made up primarily of UNISON branch secretaries), three weeks ago that they would abandon that strategy and "campaign for the best local deals" instead.
This was done without consultation with the nursery nurses at mass meetings so that they could democratically decide the strategy of their own dispute.
As one Dundee nursery nurse said: "We've been told all along that we were the union and we were running this dispute, so how could this decision have been taken without any consultation with ourselves?"
Despite this setback, nursery nurses have continued to fight. Glasgow nursery nurses voted by a massive 800-plus votes to seven to reject the employers' offer. In Edinburgh over 90% rejected their deal. In Angus council, 80% of nursery nurses have voted to continue to fight.
This dispute is not over. But nursery nurses have now provided a magnificent lead to other workers who will increasingly be forced into taking action in the months ahead. The Dundee branch of the International Socialists/CWI held a meeting on the lessons of the nursery nurses strike last week. 23 attended including 12 nursery nurses.
In The Socialist 15 May 2004:
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