In early 1988 the nurses of Britain's National Health Service reached a peak of frustration. They took unprecedented industrial action to bring the state of nursing, and problems within the Health Service, to the attention of the nation. Throughout the crisis there was acrimonious debate between the Royal College of Nursing, which acts as both a professional association and a negotiating unit and opposed the strike, and the trade unions, which organized it. Their conflict undermined the nurses' solidarity and highlighted deep and complex tensions within the profession. On the day of action, labor withdrawal was widespread but inconsistent. In the end, the nurses made some gains, but most of their concerns were ignored. The government promoted the divisions between nursing unions; the media were critical of the nurses' actions; however, the labor movement supported them, and the British Medical Journal voiced the merits of the nurses' case. The struggle of the British nurses exemplifies issues and dilemmas facing nurses throughout the world. The increasing militancy of nurses in many countries reflects their dissatisfaction with pay, working conditions, and career opportunities. Many nurses are torn between the ideals of professionalism and the realities of their workplace and are ambivalent about the principles of collective bargaining. This article addresses these ambivalences and stresses the need to find creative solutions to match nurses' unique place in the political economy of health care.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health Policy