An edited version of this article appears in Freedom (Vol 71 No 12).
On Sunday 30th of May 2010 Friends of Hackney Nurseries (FHN) organised a fun family event in London Fields, Hackney. There was face-painting, a raffle, story telling, banner-making, lots of cake and much general merriment. Although a good time had by all, especially the children, the reason behind the funday was serious and the event was intended to inform and bring people together around the very real threats to childcare provison in Hackney.
Community nurseries across the London Borough of Hackney are facing serious funding cuts, which will result in some of the poorest working families in the borough losing their nursery places. In April at least eight community nurseries received letters from the local education authority, The Learning Trust, saying that with immediate effect there would be funding cuts of up to 50 per cent at the nurseries, equivalent to 200 children losing their subsidised nursery places, leading to the serious threat of nursery closures, and hardship and distress for parents, workers and children.
The Friends of Hackney Nurseries group (FHN), which successfully organised against huge cuts to nursery provision in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, re-formed to fight these cuts and to fight for decent, affordable childcare for all in Hackney. The group is comprised of parents, nursery workers, local residents and community activists, with many feminists and anarchists responding to the call to join this struggle.
The Learning Trust has denied that there will be any funding cuts to nurseries, prefering to call it a “reallocation of funds”. Hackney council representatives and Mayor Jules Pipe publicly denied any knowledge of the planned cuts, admitting that the council has very little knowledge of what the Learning Trust does. The Learning Trust responded to these denials by saying it had fully consulted with the council in the “reallocation of funds” and with nurseries too. The nurseries affected have not been consulted at all, nor have the parents who use the nurseries. “Where exactly have the funds been reallocated to?” ask FHN, “We don’t know” say the council.
Hackney council was stripped of its right to provide education services in 2001 following widespread criticism that the then bankrupt council was the worst education authority in the country and financially incapable of providing education services to some of the most deprived children in the UK. At the direction of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, education services in Hackney were handed over to The Learning Trust, a non-profit-making, independent education trust set up by the government, and the first body of its kind in the UK.
While it was the funding cuts to community nurseries (and the resulting impact on the working parents who use the nurseries, their children and the staff of the community nurseries) that initially caused the FHN to remobilise, FHN aims to be a much broader campaign, hoping to improve childcare provision locally as well as improve terms and conditions for nursery workers across the borough. It has since come to light that in a sector that is female-dominated and traditionally under-valued and under-paid there are workers in Learning Trust-run crèches that have not received holiday pay or sick pay for up to ten years. These women workers have been treated as sessional workers despite working regularly and to set rotas for years on end. Thanks to FHN publicly raising the issues around childcare provision in the borough and its effect on workers, these women have now got union representation and should receive the working terms and conditions they are entitled too and at least some of the significant amounts of money they are owed. It is certain that there are lots more women working in education across Hackney who are in a similar situation.
It is clear that with the change of government and massive cuts to public services imminent, the struggle for decent, free or affordable childcare provision is just heating up and not just in Hackney, but across the UK. It is important that anarchists recognise the significant impact these cuts will have on the working-class women who are primarily affected by nursery cuts, and respond to these attacks accordingly. The withdrawal of public funds will affect all nurseries, and consequently our children’s opportunities will be diminished. We must organise and resist not only against these cuts, but against the sexist notion of childcare as women’s work and the resulting under-valuing of this work under capitalism. Laura Schwartz of FHN and Feminist Fightback, in a call out entitled Girls (and boys?) Come Out to Play, or Why the Fight Against Nursery Cuts Must Involve People of All Genders, calls “on the male-dominated Left to take this campaign seriously, and to join us today and in the future – not just to defend existing and unsatisfactory public services but to fight for a better way to organise our society and our lives”. London Anarcha Feminist Kolektiv would like to echo this sentiment. Childcare, who does it and how it’s organised, affects us all and as anarchists we would like to work towards the collectivisation of child rearing, with everyone taking responsibility for the next generation.
The Friends of Hackney Nurseries meet regularly and are gearing up for a long fight. All are welcome to get involved.
For more information visit www.friendsofhackneynurseries.wordpress.com