Nurse militancy and strike action


1 January 2013


Volume 1 – Number 2

How to cite

Linda Briskin



This article is part of an extensive research project on nurses’ strikes which explores nurse militancy with reference to professionalism and the commitment to service; patriarchal practices and gendered subordination; and proletarianization. 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 health care restructuring – which have encouraged militancy among nurses, despite the multiple forces arrayed against them. I have also examined nurse militancy and union renewal. I argue that workplace militancy, and particularly the militancy of nurses speaks to many of the strategic threads in the union renewal project, in particular, women’s militancy, rank-and-file militancy, coalition- building and community outreach, and professionals in the labour movement. Drawing on nurses’ strikes in many countries, this article situates nurse militancy within the context of health care restructuring and neo-liberalism, the gendered construction of nursing work, the feminization of union density and of strikes, and gendered militancy. It explores the emergence of a militant discourse among nurses focussed on the public interest, what I call the politicisation of caring, which has supported a new approach to the ethics of striking. This discourse emphasizes patient care and calls for the re-valuing of both the expertise and caring involved in nurses’ work. The politicization of caring has created the conditions for widespread public support for nurses’ strikes and offers a paradigm which supports the expansion rather than the narrowing of the collective bargaining agenda.


Nurses’ strikes, Workplace militancy, Union renewal, Gendered militancy, Politicisation of caring, Public support