Saturday, May 29, 2010

Muriel Coult - Forgotten Heroine Of Equal Pay Struggle

Muriel Coult

Muriel Coult was an active member of the Civil Service Clerical Association (the union is today, along with other merging partners, part of PCS, the Public and Commercial Services Union. She was described in the official history of the union as being a "woman who had shown exceptional energy on the Youth Advisory Committee".

She won much praise and admiration for her pioneering trade union education courses during the war. "In spite of enemy action, transport difficulties and the complications caused by evacuation and other war time problems, she made a great success of organising weekend schools in many parts of the country. So much so that many other unions followed CSCA initiative."

Muriel was elected to the Union's National Executive Committee in 1937, a position she held until 1944, when she became a full time official, taking the title of `Assistant Secretary’. But, despite Muriel's energy and commitment, she became increasingly marginalised within the union because of her openly left-wing views and membership of the Communist Party, especially after right wingers captured the union in 1949.

However, this did not stop Muriel Coult playing the leading role in organising the union’s campaign for Equal Pay. The campaign was started on
11th February 1953with a debate on Equal Pay in the House of Lords, moved by Lord Pethick-Lawrence, who had played a part in the original suffragette movement.

This was followed up with a much-copied photo opportunity; on Valentine’s Day 1953, Muriel Coult and two other union representatives delivered a huge valentines card, with an Equal Pay slogan on it, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the words “remember your promise of 16th May - Be true to US on budget day”!

Muriel Coult urged union members to collect signatures in homes, offices, special meetings, factory gates, shopping centres, and anywhere else. The aim was for a million signatures. In the event they collected 700,000 and this was presented on Equal Pay Day 9th March 1954 to the House of Commons by Douglas Houghton (a Labour MP) and Irene Ward (a Conservative MP). Outside, flags were flying bearing the old suffragette colours of purple and white, and there were purple and white buttonholes, purple and white stickers, and purple and white handbills - all bearing the slogan "Equal Pay on Budget Day".

It being Budget Day, the Chancellor posed with his red box for the famous photography. At the last minute, a group of union members produced from under their coats banners promoting equal pay, thus securing considerable press and television coverage.

Finally a Civil Service Equal Pay agreement was reached on
18th February 1955, 35 years after the House of Commons first approved the principle of Equal Pay in the sector. It was introduced in stages, which was meant it would not be fully operational until 1st January 1961.

Even so, Equal Pay disputes continued. Famously in 1959, a "Typists’ revolt" broke out, after it was discovered that the few male typists employed in service were earning 25% more than the women typists at the Treasury. Delays in addressing this grievance led, two days after the Augusts Bank holiday in 1959, to a thousand, manly young women, marching down Whitehall, singing and chanting as they went, gathering in a meeting in Horse Guards Avenue,

Muriel Coult, who became Muriel Jamieson by marriage, retired from the union in 1963 to become a teacher.

Muriel Coult surely deserves much better recognition today for her role in developing trade union education and even more importantly in securing the first real acceptance that Equal Pay in the Civil Service ought to be addressed, a fact which had repercussion's far beyond the Civil Service as the issue began to secure a foothold of attention in many, many other workplaces.

It is a scandal that in 2010 many women have still not secured Equal Pay. According to the Fawcett Society, Women working full-time earn on average 17%less per hour than men working full-time. For women working part-time compared to men working full-time the gap is 36% per hour – rising to 45% in
London. But, without women such as Muriel, perhaps the scandal might be even worse than it is!

Source: the history of CPSA by Eric Wigham
Michael Walker

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Florence Nightingale Must Die

Today, according to the International Congress of Nurses (ICN)

Is International Nurses Day

It is presently held on the birthday of Florence Nightingale

This is our response:-

Kick Over The Statues

By Michael Walker UNISON Nursing Officer for Nursing Times April1999

All over Eastern Europe statues of Lenin are being taken off their pedestals (1999), dismantled and hauled off to be cut up. It is in the same vein that the nursing profession must, as we enter the new millennium, start to exorcise the myth of Florence Nightingale.
Not necessarily because Florence Nightingale was a very bad person, but because the impact of her legacy or more correctly the interpretation of that legacy has held the nursing profession back too long.

The Nightingale myth had from it’s earliest days been appropriated by the nursing hierarchy and the founders of the Royal College of Nursing who colluded with them, to use it to sell any vocational, self sacrificing ideal required for the good of the service and not the good of nursing.

As a result of the Nightingale myth, the leadership of nursing in Britain for the best part of this century has stressed "vocation" and subordination to the medical profession and cast nursing as somehow non political. We cannot progress until we break from the yoke of the Nightingale myth.

We must ask ourselves as nurses why it is that the medical professional still dominates health care. Why very few nurses are in the political arena (it is only with the 1997 General Election that we have had nurses elected to parliament). And why nursing trade unionism has not made more of an impact. A consequence of these failings has been that nurses remain professionally impotent and nurses pay lags behind that of other "organised" professions in the UK and nurses pay in other western nations.

The failure of British nursing to meet its potential, I would contend, is the ever present Florence Nightingale, whose views, whether based on myths or reality, has stopped nursing from progressing into a profession in its own right.
What is clear, is that the British establishment sought from the very origins of modern nursing to sanitise nursing, and ensure that its heroine would be acceptable: a white, English, middle class, protestant women.

Florence Nightingale fulfilled this role admirably, unlike Irish catholic nurses such as Joanna Bridgeman and Jamaican nurses like Mary Seacole who made an equally important contribution to nursing during the Crimea War. Neither of these has been officially credited for their efforts.

It was Joanna Bridgeman who developed the system of nursing and management that Florence Nightinglae adopted, while the efforts of the black Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole in the Crimea were cold shouldered. What is equally interesting to note is that it was probably the Quaker, Elizabeth Fry, who has greatest claim to the title founder of modern nursing with her pioneering work at St John's hospital by her Institution of Nursing Sisters, a number of years before Florence Nightingale embarked upon her endeavours. So maybe international nurse’s day should be celebrated on her birthday, the 21st May.

Once the Nightingale myth and her status as a Saint had been confirmed by the British establishment, Florence Nightingale set about turning out her robotic acolytes from the St Thomas School of Nursing from 1860 onwards, soon capturing the role of matrons in most major hospitals.
Ehrenreich & English encapsulated this well in following quote: ‘Training emphasised character, not skills. The finished product, the Nightingale nurse, was simply the ideal lady …absolved of reproductive responsibilities.

To the doctor, she brought the wifely virtue of absolute obedience. To the patient, she brought the selfless devotion of a mother. To the lower level hospital employees, she brought the firm but kindly discipline of a household manager accustomed to dealing with servants’.
Abel-Smith sates: "The power (of matrons) was reinforced by the para-military organisation of the nursing staff and the rigid discipline imposed in the training schools. As Miss Nightingale said rather ominously "No good ever comes of anyone interfering between the head of nursing establishment and her nurses. It is fatal to discipline". The control of the matrons over her nurses was to play a crucial role in future attempts to enrol nurses in professional organisations or trade unions".

No wonder Ann Widdecombe (supported by RCN General secretary Christine Hancock) called for the return of the Matron at last year’s Tory party conference.
Florence Nightingale supported the subordinate role of nurses to doctors, opposed registration of nurses, three year training of nurses, did not see mental health nurses as part of nursing, and had questionable success at her hospital in the Crimea, she also turned her back on the fine history of lay women healers, not to mention her opposition to women speaking in public..

Nurses are increasingly beginning to challenge the Nightingale myth. Today’s nurses, especially our UNISON nursing students are much more questioning, much more involved in campaigning and much more willing to stand up for their rights and pushing the bounderies of our professional role. This development can only be a good thing as nursing enters the new millennium.
Nurses of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your chains By Michael Walker UNISON Nursing student Officer and Wendy Wheeler RGN RHV

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tories: I Warn You !

"I warn you. I warn you that you will have pain – when healing and relief depend upon payment. I warn you that you will have ignorance – when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right. I warn you that you will have poverty – when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can't pay. I warn you that you will be cold – when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don't notice and the poor can't afford.

I warn you that you must not expect work – when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don't earn, they don't spend. When they don't spend, work dies. I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light. I warn you that you will be quiet – when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient. I warn you that you will have defence of a sort – with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding. I warn you that you will be home-bound – when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up. I warn you that you will borrow less – when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old."

Neil Kinnock General Election 1983

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