Celebrating the Miners' Strike and
UNISON Nursery Nurses' strike
Before a joint trade union showing of Ken Loach's acclaimed film 'The Spirit of '45', on 1 May the branch marked the 30th anniversary of the Miners' Strike and the 10th anniversary of the successful Nursery Nurses' dispute of 2004-2005.
Branch President John Stevenson made presentations to Barbara Foubister and Agnes Petkevicius, leaders of the Edinburgh Nursery Nurses' dispute and Rab Amos, UNISON branch officer and a key activist in the NUM during the Miners' Strike.
"Mayday 2014 marks two hugely significant anniversaries for trade unionists in Edinburgh.
It’s 30 years since the start of the year-long miners’ strike of 1984/85.
And on 31 May it will be 10 years since nursery nurses in Edinburgh returned to work after a year-long dispute culminating in 11 weeks of all out strike – the longest strike in Scotland since the miners’ strike.
We want to make a small commemoration of both these events tonight.
I am not going to attempt to give you the history of the miners’ strike. There are people far more qualified to do that.
But I am going to say a few words about some of the issues arising from it.
I was honoured to be part of giving some support to miners in the Lothians, especially with Rab Amos and his comrades
Lothian Region NALGO, as it was then, voted to give support in kind because there was a justified fear that cash would be sequestrated by the government. So we worked into the night running off leaflets and posters on our equipment to back up the actions in Dalkeith and surrounding area. We were also privileged to work with comrades at Polkemmet.
I saw a blog diary recently from a miner at the time who spoke of support from other unions on the ground, even though it did not come formally from the TUC.
The diary reports that group of pickets were arrested at Monktonhall and found themselves in a police van with a local cleaner who had come to support. He is reported to have been quite pissed off at being arrested and shouted to police: “Ye cannae arrest me. Ah’m no a miner, Ah’m in NUPE!’
The police apparently seemed less than sensitive to this demarcation issue.
We now know some truths about the miners’ strike that the government lied about at the time.
One was that they used the police and MI5 and the all too willing courts for political ends – acting outwith, above and beyond the law. And we know that thousands of convictions would have been fit-ups.
In Dalkeith scores were arrested and detained – at one point half the strike committee I think – in what can only be called internment.
David Hamilton, now a Labour MP, was locked up for two months before being acquitted. But being acquitted didn’t stop him losing his job and being effectively blacklisted like thousands of others.
And the other is that when Scargill was called a liar for saying there was a "secret hit-list" of more than 70 pits marked for closure, he was in fact absolutely right. Cabinet papers released this year show there was a list of 75 pits to be closed.
The miners fought bravely for our coal industry but it was destroyed by the Tories and we are now relying not on our own resources but on imports.
They fought bravely for an energy industry owned by us. Instead of the privatised industries that are fleecing us today.
Mostly they fought for communities ravaged by unemployment and industries deliberately destroyed. And we are now all paying as the greed of financial institutions who manufacture nothing. They get bailed out, carry on paying themselves obscene money, plunder our public services to line their big business pals’ pockets - and we are left paying the price.
But the major lesson is that we have the proof over and over again that the Tory government, the establishment, the laughingly-called free press and the law itself conspired to lie to the people.
So when we see Ineos, when we see the Tube strike and when we see workers taking action anywhere – the lesson is, ignore the media propaganda and listen to the testimony of the workers and their unions. Maybe even read the Morning Star!
The evidence is there – there is far more chance the workers will be telling you the truth than the government or the media.
Nursery Nurses Strike
Mining was and is a male-dominated industry and one of the most significant organisational things that arose in the Miners’ Strike was the Women’s Support Groups. I remember doing a report with Sadie King, Helen Taylor and Jane Oliver and was inspired by how they organised.
They underlined that this was not just the miners’ fight. It was a fight for families and communities.
And of course it is women that have often led the way through history. You only have to think of the Jute and Flax workers in Dundee. Between 1889 and 1914, there were at least 103 strikes involving women jute workers in Dundee involving up to 35,000 workers. In 1906 the union’s new constitution said the executive had to be 50% women. Mind you, there were just a few men members and thousands of women members - but it was at least a start.
More recently there was the hugely significant Lee Jeans occupation in Greenock.
And of course, from 2003 to 2004, the year-long nursery nurse action across Scotland.
It may not be surprising for a largely women dominated profession that nursery nurse pay had not been reviewed for 15 years, and they had been waiting 18 months for a response on their claim.
They had mounted demonstrations, submitted a 20,000 signature petition to the Scottish Parliament and lobbied parents, councillors and MSPs. With no response their patience ran out and they balloted for action. The first strike in Edinburgh was on 21 May 2003.
They started with strikes co-ordinated in different areas across Scotland in a rolling programme to seek a national settlement that would address the pitifully low pay and pitifully low value councils afforded these workers.
But more than that, it was also about dedication to the children they served and a real commitment to the future of early years care and education delivered by properly trained and supported professionals.
In 2004, the action culminated in 11 weeks of all out strike with some of the most imaginative events ever seen in a dispute to keep the fight in the public eye.
Strikers from Fife and the Lothians marched to cross borders and meet in the middle of the Forth Road Bridge to show the absurdity of CoSLA’s insistence on local deals instead of a national settlement.
On the 90th anniversary of Ethel Moorhead’s force feeding in Calton jail, nursery nurses dressed as suffragettes and paper-chained themselves to the First Minister’s residence.
They mounted a rally to both of 'Edinburgh's Disgraces' by lobbying the Council to expose the local offer as a 'disgrace' then marched to 'Edinburgh's Disgrace' monument on Calton Hill to release hundreds of balloons with meticulous military precision and signalled by Barbara Foubister’s famous whistle.
And the one I love most. When CoSLA refused to come to the table for national negotiations, thousands of nursery nurses and supporters marched through Edinburgh carrying the table to CoSLA and setting it up outside the organisation’s front door.
And when the media attacked them, the nursery nurses turned up at the door of the Evening News and demanded the journalists account for themselves! We should maybe do more of that!
But unfortunately, branches started to settle locally. Glasgow and Edinburgh held out but eventually the central strike committee had to recognise the reality and gave the go ahead for local settlements.
In Edinburgh, after 12 hours at ACAS, we got a deal that didn’t deliver all we wanted but it did deliver rises of up to 10 salary points – almost inconceivable these days – thousands in lump sum payments and a career structure.
Nationally it also delivered a Scottish Government review of early years.
It was a fantastic dispute, run with dignity in the face of politically motivated attacks by some parents in Edinburgh and run with some real imagination. Most of all, the strikers got fully involved in, and made sure they controlled, their own dispute.
The action changed the face of early years work and the importance of the role of nursery nurses across Scotland.
Tonight we recognise two of the leaders of that disputeand ask them to accept a small token of the 10th anniversary of the strike - Barbara Foubister and Agnes Petkevicius."