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Nursery Nurses scent victory in pay battle
THE INCREASINGLY bitter pay battle by nursery nurses in Kirklees, Yorkshire is rapidly reaching a conclusion - in the union's favour! Nursery nurses have now been on strike for nine days but last week transformed the strike and the workforce.
Mike Forster, joint chief education steward, Kirklees UNISON, (personal capacity)
At the mass meeting three days before the last strike, UNISON steward, Jill Hinchliffe turned the mood around when she told the meeting that she'd fought for over ten years to get nursery nurses regraded.
A schedule of workplace meetings, school pickets, public activity and political lobbying was organised. The nursery nurses divided themselves into five groups and set about their task.
Out of 120 nursery nurses on strike, about 100 took part in different events, addressing mass meetings of trade unionists, speaking to the press and organising solidarity action.
On the first night of the strike, ten strikers attended as visitors as UNISON's branch committee discussed the dispute. After a long debate, the meeting passed my resolution to call a special meeting demanding an industrial action ballot of all 7,000 local government members.
The vote gave nursery nurses enormous confidence that they could win with extra support. It also had a big impact on the council. Next day, billboards talked of 'looming town hall strike'. By midweek, the mood was buoyant. A demo followed by a mass rally lifted spirits.
The only question at the meeting itself was when nursery nurses would take all-out strike action. No one blinked. Everyone saw the need to continue with the momentum until the council gave way. The rally was even addressed by the leader of the Tory group of councillors pledging public support!
On Friday despite a downpour, nursery nurses went ahead with their planned maypole dancing stunt in the centre of town. They were now wearing specially made T-shirts and were in high spirits.
Around £1,000 and 5,000 signatures were collected in the week. The council deputy leader had about 6,000 postcards urging him to settle. On the last afternoon of the strike, we were marched up to the council building and cheered into the talks.
The council improved its 'last and final' offer. It will mean an average of £2,000 extra a year, backdated to last October. It will start to lift nursery nurses out of poverty pay. Council negotiators made it clear this is an interim settlement. School remodelling will mean they may return at a later stage.
However, if the deal is ratified later this week, it will be a victory for a group of very determined trade unionists. They will remain active with the union and want to visit Scottish nursery nurses to take solidarity messages of support.
They also want to play their part in helping to transform UNISON into a fighting union which up to now has failed to mobilise this latent support amongst classroom support staff all over the country.
As we practised our chants outside Huddersfield Library last week, one slogan epitomised the mood: "Kirklees council hear us shout, pay us more or we'll stay out".
5,000 nursery nurses in Scotland will be on 48-hour strike on either 20/21 or 21/22 May, depending on the area. They are also starting an indefinite boycott of duties they have taken on since their last pay review 15 years ago.
In The Socialist 24 May 2003: