When Child Care Workers Fought Back: A History to be Proud of, Lessons to be Learned, and a Tribute to International Women’s Day
In the first decade of the 20th Century, agitation by women in the industrial parts of the world for their civil rights and for their rights as workers was gaining momentum. Inspired by this increased militancy– and by the organizing in 1909 of National Woman’s Day by the Woman’s National Committee of the Socialist Party of America– the Women’s Congress of the Second International, meeting in Copenhagen in 1910, approved the call by German Socialist Clara Zetkin and other delegates to create a Women’s Day to foster international solidarity among socialist women.
In contrast to the liberal movements for woman’s suffrage and workers’ rights, and in opposition to war and social injustice, International Women’s Day would be firmly placed in the context of the global capitalist system, one that basically refuses to recognize, let alone heed, the needs and rights of women.
In the last decade of the 20th Century, another reawakening, also focusing on workers’ rights in the context of the range of women’s roles in society, was occurring in the United States. For the better part of the 1990’s, hundreds of child care workers, including myself, took part in a grassroots project called the Worthy Wage Campaign. Through fact-finding, consciousness raising, marches, rallies, street festivals, letter-writing, and media contact– and under the banner of ‘Rights, Raises, and Respect’– we confronted what was called the staffing crisis, and were determined to reverse it. Of immediate concern was the revolving door of miserably-paid child care workers and the effect this had on children and families.
As this phenomenon started getting sorted out through data from centers and interviews with workers, certain facts became clear. First and foremost was that our low wages and lack of benefits and good working conditions were subsidizing the cost of child care, either to ‘ease the burden’ on parents if there were fees to pay, or on government whose spending priorities invariably put human services such as child care at the bottom of the list.
As we got deeper into our understanding of the various crises in child care many of us started to understand their systemic nature and the ways workers, families, and community members were getting manipulated and pitted against each other. We would see that this was serving to derail us from taking the kind of collective action that would really challenge and transform capitalism, the root cause of the crises that riddled the care and education sectors.
To find allies, some of us Worthy Wage campaigners worked hard to get the rights of child care workers, families, and children on the agenda of human rights, social justice, and radical labour groups. At the same time, those of us affiliated with the IWW, socialist organisations, and/or women’s rights/liberation projects did the reverse: i.e., encouraged child care workers to get involved with the broader movement for social change, since our issues were so often the same. I had what I considered the extra advantage of being a socialist feminist in an overwhelmingly-female workforce. This helped me see my experiences as a child care worker from both a class and a gender perspective. Others, also, came to appreciate the fact that patriarchy and misogyny had a lot to do with our low pay, low status, and tendency to undervalue ourselves.
Unfortunately, liberal politics won out, and by 2002, the Worthy Wage Campaign was now headquartered in Washington, D.C., renamed the Center for the Child Care Workforce, and officially a project of the mainstream American Federation of Teachers Educational Fund. Empowerment for radical change of the relationship between workers, families, and communities– based on full government funding for good wages and benefits, low child-staff ratios, high quality facilities, support services, and free tuition– had become a vague reference to a “well-educated” workforce, receiving “better compensation, and a “voice” in their workplace.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the public sector nursery nurses, members of Unison, were getting fed up with government stone-walling on their own child care crisis. The ruse of so-called professionalism that had undermined the militancy of the Worthy Wage Campaign was playing itself out in Scotland in the form of expanded job descriptions but no pay increases for the added responsibilities. In fact, there had been no salary review since 1988 in any of the Scottish councils in charge of overseeing the nurseries.
By the end of 2003, between 4,000 and 5,000 nursery nurses, disgusted by the intransigence of both the councils and COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) had voted for strike action that led to a series of regional one- or two-day strikes, accompanied by rallies and demonstrations. And by March 1st, 2004, the nursery nurses were ready to engage in an all-out, indefinite, strike for a national settlement on pay raises in line with their current job requirements and the importance of their work.
Unfortunately, but predictably, the standard business-union tactics of Unison not only failed to sufficiently support solidarity among the nursery nurses but failed to foster links between the nursery nurses and workers in other sectors, and between the nurses and their centers’ families and communities when more picket support and public outcry might well have changed the strike’s outcome.
Instead, the rallying cry for a national settlement– basic to the goal of equal pay for equal work, and so vital to enabling the nursery nurses to maintain their resolve– was dropped by Unison based on a pledge of a national review of pay and working conditions at some point in the future. This led to significant discrepancies between the pay settlements negotiated between the union and individual councils and, undoubtedly, to demoralization among the workers when the 12-week strike ended.
Fast forward to London at the end of January 2013, when early years minister, Elizabeth Truss, proposed changes to child-staff ratios in child care centers in England, as well as the expansion of education requirements for the workers. In child care and other human service sectors this strategy usually works particularly well because it employs the mythology of success throuogh individual effort and perseverance, and platitudes about the importance of our work, while exploiting the workers’ collective dedication and compassion. At the same time, it promises families and tax payers that with one stroke of administrative genius, child care (or whatever) will be ‘cost-effective’ and thus less burdensome.
This is a sham, and workers, families, and community activists need to say so via direct and coordinated actions. Child care workers and supporters must hammer away at the fact that wages, benefits, staffing ratios, appreciation of our efforts, and recognition and support of our skills and interests are prime determinants of quality child care– and none of these factors should or need to get ignored.
For those of us who participated in the Worthy Wage Campaign in the U.S. or the nursery nurses strike in Scotland, the ridiculous atomizing of quality child care that Truss’s proposal represents is an all-too-familiar tactic for diverting attention from those responsible for the wholly inadequate public funding of social services by cleverly focusing attention on the blameless.
Liz Truss and her ilk need to be told that we won’t stand for their continual trade-off schemes, such as further education and training as a pre-condition for good wages and working conditions. By this time, we should know that quality care and quality jobs cannot be an either/or proposition. Ways must be found to enable them to occur simultaneously, and with the rights, needs, and final say of the staff at the core of this planning.
By turning the spotlight, and turning up the heat, on purposely convoluted pseudo-solutions to serious social problems, and on the rapid erosion of the public sector leading to the withering of social services, we will surely advance the struggle for the global unity of the working class.
Furthermore, by remembering the courage and commitment of such women workers as the Worthy Wage campaigners in the U.S. and the striking nursery nurses in Scotland– acting on behalf of their rights and those of all women and all workers– we honor the founders, and perpetuate the meaning, of International Women’s Day in the best way possible.
The recent meeting of IWW Education Workers (Britain and Ireland) adopted the following solidarity statement:
Solidarity to all students and education workers in Quebec involved in the struggle against tuition fees from the IWW (UK section) Education Workers Network. Your actions have been an inspiration to education workers and students around the world fighting against the attempt by governments to make students pay for the latest capitalist crisis. You can win, we will continue to spread information and build support in the UK for your actions.
What is an academy chain?
Academy chains are a partnership of a group or collection of school academies. These academies can vary in size and composition and some have a formal and some adopt less formal structures.
These chains are shown by three main models.
- ‘Multi Academy Trust model’. These are academies that are linked by one legal identity governed by one trust and board of directors.
- ‘Umbrella Trust model’. These are a group of academy trusts that set up an individual trust to provide collaboration and a shared governance.
- An informal collaborative partnership that has no formal governance. These academies just agree to work together.
Academies are joined by a chain system in order to give them more influence and power to the governing bodies that control them. They claim that best practice can be shared and the economies of these academies can be more efficient.
The chain’s governing body will control the staffing and the control of the curriculum. The chain also controls the procurement of services for the schools that they are responsible for. These can range from supply cover, behaviour and special needs services, Human Resources (HR), ICT, payroll, legal and insurance services. Some chains will buy in services from the local authority or private services. Chains may even set up their own services to provide cleaning and other janitorial staff such as caretakers.
Working with chains
Many unions are opposed to school academies and the IWW, an industrial union is no exception to opposing academies. One of the main concerns are the pay and conditions issues that these academies can pose for their staff. Many national agreements are largely honoured by these academies but they may include additional contracts to staff especially new ones which in effect could mean that staff may have to work for longer hours or that the nature of the job of work has changed so much that in effect staff are doing additional work without extra pay and doing this work may be difficult to implement.
Another major concern is that the financial package that the school gets could be less rather than more each year. If the academy is part of a chain that runs this school the money and other resources could be even less. If the situation becomes national as in the case of two nationally run group of academies even less might occur. In the current economic climate it is unlikely that funding for academies will increase.
A chain of academies cannot override local agreements with the staff that has already been negotiated with the trade unions that represent the workforce in schools. These agreements are recognised locally and on a wider basis. TUPE and other packages that have been agreed are also safe but it does not mean that in the future that these could be renegotiated and therefore it might be likely that the school staff may get a worse deal in their employment working an academy school.
Some IWW workers in schools are also members of trade unions so they are advised that if a school wants to become an academy or wants to join a chain of academies it would be worth pushing for protest with other unions that represent school staff.
Opposing schools in joining chains would help break some power in these academies also.
A Fellow Worker responds to the announcement by NUT and NASUWT that they intend to work together to defend teachers and education.
The decision of NUT and NASUWT leaders to work together in fighting the cutbacks is certainly to be welcomed, but by no means does this decision bring us significantly closer to the type of militant movement of teachers we so desperately need. InScotland, the EIS functions as the dominant union in the school system, outside of the universities and colleges, and yet the same policy of vacillation and accommodation has characterized the union’s response to the austerity agenda.
The reality that confronts us is that union leaders across the board are unwilling to challenge the government, eitherWestminsteror Holyrood. The rhetoric may vary, but the policy remains the same: Hope for the best and fund the Labour Party.
We in the IWW need to develop an alternative strategy. We need to promote a unity at the grassroots level, where militant teachers come together to discuss common problems and formulate a strategy that can be pursued across organizational boundaries. We need to help to organize militant actions that counter the cutbacks and present a positive alternative, and we need to carry out these actions with or without the approval of the union bureaucrats.
The old Broad Left emphasized the creation of broad coalitions that could elect ”left-wing” union officials to national office. In some unions, this effort succeeded, and yet fundamentally little has changed. Our strategy has to be very different. By creating a strong base of activists at the school level, and then connecting these activists across official union structures, we can establish a strong network working toward radical change. The construction workers have begun to do this. We can learn from their example.
On 28 May the 2 biggest teachers union in the UK – NASUWT and NUT issued the following joint declaration. The IWW welcomes all attempts to overcome divisions between workers and the various trade unions into which they are split, and therefore welcomes this declaration as a positive step.
“NASUWT & NUT – Joint declaration of intent
Given the unprecedented and sustained attack by the Government on the teaching profession and the consequent damage to the education service, the two largest teachers’ unions, the NASUWT and NUT have agreed to act together in defence of teachers and of education.
This historic agreement arises from the serious concerns that members of both of our unions have about the way the present Government is undermining the education system. This agreement between two unions, that between them represent more than 85% of all teachers in England and Wales, should give the Government pause for thought.
Our members’ key concerns are about the attacks on their working conditions, workload, pensions, pay and jobs. Teachers’ conditions of service are inextricably linked to the provision of high quality education for all. Our two unions intend to mount an unprecedented joint campaign on these issues. In particular, we will challenge:
* unacceptable and excessive workload pressures which are damaging to teachers’ health and wellbeing, undermining teaching and learning and threatening educational standards;
* the failure of the Government to carry out the valuation of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, the imposition of unfair contribution increases and changes to make teachers work to 68 or higher to get a full pension;
* the Government’s proposals for local pay and performance related pay and the continuation of the pay freeze for teachers;
* the attack on teachers’ jobs and national terms and conditions of service, including those arising from the privatisation and academisation of schools;
* threats to jobs arising from funding cuts and education and curriculum reforms.
We believe the threat to the profession and the education service is now so severe that jointly coordinated action is essential.
We are writing to the Secretary of State for Education and, as appropriate, the Minister for Education in Wales, to seek urgent discussions about these issues which threaten teacher morale and the whole education system. We urge them to make the best use of the time available before the start of the next school year to reach agreement with us.
Our campaign will involve working jointly on political lobbying, public campaigns, research and negotiation, together with a jointly coordinated programme of industrial action, including action short of strike action and strike action.
Should the Government refuse to take the current opportunity to negotiate sensible arrangements which protect teachers and defend education, then it is our intention to move to escalate industrial action, including jointly coordinated strike action and action short of strike action in the autumn.”
The below is from the UNISON website, and details a campaign in which an IWW dual carder was prominent in the stewards group. This was useful in terms of gaining a campaigning edge from the outset.
(16/02/12) Birmingham UNISON is celebrating after seeing off the threat of redundancy to more than 100 Connexions staff in the city.
After a long and hard-fought campaign, the branch was told this week that the threat of compulsory redundancies for Birmingham Connexions staff had been withdrawn. Employers would not be going through the redundancy selection process which was due to start at the end of February.
A staff notice from the acting lead officer for Connexions stated: “No further redundancies from our service are required at this stage”.
Some 105 out of 172 full-time equivalent posts had been under threat, but the council is now looking to make savings through alternative means, including voluntary severances and redeployments.
“There will still be terrible service cuts,” commented joint UNISON branch secretary Graeme Horn after the announcement. “And the service will be a targetted one, not a universal one anymore.
“We continue to oppose these cuts in service and the drastic impact these will have on a generation of young people in the city, who are facing the worst conditions in living memory when attempting to enter the jobs market.
“But without the opposition of our stewards committee in Connexions, the Connexions staff themselves, our campaigning allies in Birmingham Against The Cuts and all those who have supported the Save Connexions campaign, the cuts would have been far, far, worse,” he added.
“This is a victory for those who have been prepared to take industrial action, to take round petitions, to hand out leaflets to the public, to lobby their councillors, to march on the Council House, to speak at meetings throughout the city, to give endless interviews to the media and, above all, to never give up.”