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Anger As Unison Leadership Backs Down
AFTER EIGHT weeks of strike action, nursery nurses were left feeling outraged and betrayed by the decision of the national UNISON leadership to abandon the fight for a national pay and conditions deal for nursery nurses and thereby attempt to end the strike.
Philip Stott, CWI Scotland
On 20 April, without any consultation with the 4,000 nursery nurses still on strike, Scottish UNISON officials proposed at a delegate meeting of those branches still in dispute that all strike action be suspended from 23 April.
While this was defeated, the leadership's fall-back position was to force through a vote that insisted that nursery nurses had to sign local deals.
Within hours, and even before the majority of nursery nurses had heard the news, UNISON leaders had gone to the press to announce the decision. Nursery nurses' mass meetings in the days following this betrayal expressed seething anger at the decision. Many felt utterly let down by the union leadership.
The meetings saw many nursery nurses in tears. But it was also met with a determination not to allow eight weeks of strike action to end without something to show from all that sacrifice. Resolutions of condemnation of the national UNISON officials are now coming in from branches of UNISON in response.
As we go to press a number of areas have now signed or are likely to sign local agreements. In most if not all cases there have been significant concessions from the employers.
In North Lanarkshire a meeting of 300 nursery nurses voted narrowly to accept a deal that saw their hourly wage rise to £10.13 an hour.
Significantly the employers also agreed to pay £1,200 in a lump sum to all nursery nurses. This effectively means that nursery nurses will get back what they lost in wages during the strike. Even then the agreement was only passed by 166 votes to 115.
Many nursery nurses felt, following the decision of the union leadership, that they had no choice to sign. "It's something but not enough" was the feeling expressed by most of them.
In Glasgow a mass meeting of over 700 nursery nurses made it clear they would not be going back unless an acceptable offer was made by the employers.
Nursery nurses in Edinburgh massively voted to reject the deal. In Fife they were so enraged at the offer they were made, the nursery nurses marched down to the council offices to hand back the documents containing the council's proposals!
In Dundee, management hoped to take advantage of the anger and a certain demoralisation that had set in to force nursery nurses to sign a deal by midday on 23 April. If not, the deal was off the table they claimed. "We won't be blackmailed or bullied into signing something until we have discussed it in our time" was the comment of one nursery nurse which summed up the mood of many.
Jim McFarlane, the chair of UNISON in Dundee and a member of the International Socialists (CWI Scotland) proposed that unless more time was given to consider the deal it should be rejected. He was the only branch official to put a recommendation.
A member of the Socialist Workers Party, who is also the branch service and conditions officer, did not make a call to throw the offer out. Nursery nurses voted narrowly to reject the deal.
Lo and behold the council then decided to keep the offer on the table. More concessions have been won by the nursery nurses since then and as we go to press they are still on strike.
This fight has from the start been about low pay and recognition of the job that nursery nurses do. Improvements in pay have been won as a result of the militant and determined action of nursery nurses. They have set a benchmark for other workers to follow. More than 2,000 nursery nurses are still on strike.
But wider lessons need to be urgently discussed by nursery nurses.
These include the need for a fighting leadership at a local and national level, the need to build effective solidarity action and above all the vital necessity to ensure that the phenomenal talents and energy of the nursery nurses be incorporated to help build a more combative and clear-sighted workers' movement.
In The Socialist 1 May 2004:
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