Wow! whoever wrote - ’ A Fight for Equality - the Nursery Nurse Dispute of the 1980’s’ - was really close to the dispute and understood what was going on. I was on the Cheshire Nursery Nurse Industrial Action Committee throughout the dispute. I don’t think any of us doubted that our demands were both just and fair, yet there were times when you felt we were fighting on too many fronts.
I had forgotten a lot of the details mentioned in the article and it was good to look back and refresh the memory.
Looking back the one thing that sticks out for me was the camaraderie amongst the Nursery Nurses on the industrial action committee. Yes, there were differences of opinion and heated exchanges were frequent, but you knew they had each other’s backs and that bond developed into friendships that lasted far beyond the dispute. The industrial action committee was made up of Branch Officers and 18 Nursery Nurses, 3 from each of the 6 Cheshire district. We met regularly and planned our campaign, responded to the setbacks and most important of all kept our colleagues in the respective areas informed of what was going on. I personally think this was key, keeping 400 Nursery Nurses informed of what we were doing may have been tiring but it was essential to keep a dispute running for so long. Particularly when you consider many of the Nursery Nurses worked on their own in a school. Stories of Head Teachers and employers trying to pick them off one by one were common. Even in special schools where between 10 and 20 Nursery Nurses would work the emotional blackmail used against them was immense.
Sadly, a number of colleagues are no longer with us, a few of us continued as activists in the Trade Union movement and some ventured into other areas fighting for social justice and women’s rights. What is for certain none of us emerged from that dispute the same people as when we went into it.
There were two stand out moments for me that will never appear in the history books. One the shock of having one of our leading Branch Officers be appointed as Cheshire Senior Personnel Officer half way through the dispute and to then have him start to discipline Nursery Nurses for taking the very action that he’d helped us develop and the second is the ongoing “pig” jokes that emanated from a nationally lobby of the LGA in London where a papier-mâché pig was displayed as a piggy bank to signify we weren’t just working for pocket money. The leader of the LGA came out to meet the representative of the lobby supposedly to find out about the dispute. The first question he asked was how the nursery nurse made the pig! And what’s more she told him. And so, the pig jokes started so much so that when we did finally get our back pay several members of the Industrial Action committee blew it on a meal at the Wild Boar in Cheshire. Not only did we toast the employers derisory offer, we also toasted all those we’d managed to offend along the way. This, if you like, was our last act of defiance.
As with any dispute you don’t win it on your own and we did have a lot of support from within our own branch, Frank Hont, Ray McHale the Education Stewards Committee and our convenor Ray Barron to name a few. We had tremendous Regional support from Pete Cresswell and Dennis MaGinn both of whom deserved a medal for putting up with us. Carolyn Baker, Lynn Evans and Judy Cotter for continually supporting us and pushing our cause Nationally. Stewart Lever and Les Page who despite their own dispute in Water were always willing to spare time and share tactics.
I am amazed that after all these years people are still interested in this story, for me looking back the significance is far more important than I ever realised living through it. One other thing I would say is that, as any parent will tell you childcare is not “innate” it’s bloody hard work and those who deliver it need to be recognised and recompensed for the contribution they make.