BRISKIN L. Nursing Inquiry 2012; 19: 285–296
Resistance, mobilization and militancy: nurses on strike
Drawing on nurses’ strikes in many countries, this paper explores nurse militancy with reference to professionalism and the commitment to service; patriarchal practices and gendered subordination; and proletarianization and the confrontation with healthcare restructuring. These deeply entangled trajectories have had a significant impact on the work, consciousness and militancy of nurses and have shaped occupation-specific forms of resistance. They have produced a pattern of overlapping solidarities – occupational solidarity, gendered alliances and coalitions around healthcare restructuring – which have supported, indeed promoted, militancy among nurses, despite the multiple forces arrayed against them. The professional commitments of nurses to the provision of care have confronted healthcare restructuring, nursing shortages, intensification of work, precarious employment and gendered hierarchies with a militant discourse around the public interest, and a reconstitution and reclamation of ‘caring’, what I call the politicisation of caring. In fact, nurses’ dedication to caring work in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries may encourage rather than dissuade them from going on strike. This paper uses a trans-disciplinary methodology, qualitative material in the form of strike narratives constructed from newspaper archives, and references to the popular and scholarly literature on nursing militancy.