To strike, or not to strike? Is that the question?
Or as NZNO members in DHBs prepare to vote on their employer’s latest offer, is the question now vexing the troubled soul of nursing something deeper?
There’s no doubt we’re living in a time when unrest is driving change, for our profession and for NZNO. As I said in last month’s issue of Kai Tiaki, members are rising up and making history.
“Never before have NZNO members in our public hospitals voted to reject an offer recommended by the national negotiating team, as they did in December”, I observed.
“And the turnout at the March meetings saw a majority of members vote in a ratification ballot for the first time.”
To that, we can now add that more members took part in the online strike ballot last month than in any other vote in NZNO’s 109-year history.
The past as we knew it – one of “doing more with less”, of increasing workloads and stress, and of NZNO membership as just “an insurance policy” and a person at the end of the phone – this is being swept away. Yet in the words of Joe Strummer, “the future is unwritten”.
But as we write the future, we must attend to the soul of nursing. Fundamentally, it’s now a question of being true to who we are, as professionals and as trade unionists.
As nurses, we have a unique language of kindness, understanding, perception and logic. Every day we bring that to the patients we care and advocate for. It is that language we now need to use for our own advocacy.
The foundations of our profession are built on ethical integrity. We are evidence-based in thought and compassionate in deeds.
We must now interact with each other and engage with our employers and the wider public ethically, using evidence and compassion.
When the DHBs chose to talk to the media rather than give us time to digest their offer, we were angry. But we kept our integrity. We cannot let fear or anger undermine who we are or decide our vote for us.
We are advocates. Effective advocates combine passion with good analysis, and carefully crafted communication. We must be that kind of advocate for ourselves and our profession.
And we are carers. Each of us was drawn to the work of helping others because of this.
Another name for care is solidarity. Our foremothers and forefathers who founded the union movement understood the meaning of this word.
They were animated by the socialist spirit of looking out for others and standing together behind the collective decision, whatever it may be. As we seek change, let us also hold fast to that spirit.
Whether we strike or not, the next steps for us may be difficult. But with care towards each other, they can be made easier.
Struggle and adversity can bring out the worst, or the best in people. How we struggle and advocate for our profession defines who we are as a profession.
My call to each and every one of you is this: be yourself, it is who we need most right now to win. •
(Written for Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand. Posted here in advance of publication in the June issue, with permission)