Lancing the early years boil

11th June 2004 at 01:00
The nursery nurses' dispute was untenable from the start. This was not because there was no sympathy for their cause - undervalued staff delivering valued public services on low pay gain an inevitable edge in any dispute. The moral high ground none the less depends on the leadership of their cause, in this case by Unison, which did not seem to have a clear exit strategy if plan A was foiled. And so, the inevitable impasse occurred - the local authorities refused to contemplate a national agreement and Unison set its face adamantly against local deals. As soon as local settlements spread, however, the die was cast.

But the nursery nurses have not been forced back to work, in the manner of the miners in the 1980s, with nothing to show for it. Arguably, they achieved locally what they could not have done nationally, and certainly could not have done nationally without a strike. Local authority leaders may feel they have won their point and they have certainly emerged victorious in this particular battle. But have they won the war?

Like all disputes with their moments of bitterness, there is an aftermath which will have to be confronted. Councils that seem to have settled late, and therefore more reluctantly and less generously than others, will have to go the extra mile to cement relations with their nursery nurses. But there are other unresolved issues and the review of the early years workforce announced on Wednesday is a welcome attempt to lance a few boils.

That, too, is an outcome which is unlikely to have come to pass without the nursery nurses' action.

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