Nurses and Midwives unite to fight against austerity

Nurses striking outside the Coombe Hospital photo credit: Ciara Tyrrell

The new year’s bell rang with a national strike where thousands of nurses and midwives across the country stopped going to their jobs and made a stand, asking for changes to be made and for the government to listen to their concerns and needs.

The first strike took place on the 30th of January and it was a 24 hour strike. The Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organization (INMO) gave three weeks notice prior to the strike as it was announced on the 8th of January, 2019. And that was the second national strike in the INMO’s organization’s hundred-year history.

During the strike, the INMO members withdrew their labour for 24 hours, providing only emergency response teams and lifesaving care.

Compared to other national strikes, this one deemed a shorter period of time, and the nurses and midwives’ voices were heard. As a result, changes were promised by the government. But why is that the case? What makes this strike different from other strikes that have happened before in Ireland?

The nurses’ strike is related to trade unionism where the tools used revolve around working and pay conditions. It followed the standard path of growth and then delay after the labour court’s intervention.

Yet the fact that nurses took action is surprising, and that it was the biggest national strike in recent years. Back then any public-sector professional was held back from any industrial action by a combination of their own professional ethics and prohibitive legislation.   

Any medical professional has great inhibition towards anything that could affect trade unionism, and the nurses’ associations used to act in a similar position.

Nowadays, a lot has changed and in the advanced economy that we live in, a growing share of labour protest result from unusual suspects. Nurses, medical consultants, and teachers are engaging in conflict with their employer, the state. Workers were self-conscious about using the labour movement’s general protest strategies that are reenergizing the fight against austerity.

The nurses’ strike is an act against austerity, and the fact that this came from nurses is especially surprising considering the long-term history of their professional association.

Public opinion remained solid with the nurses and midwives. And, to show their support, tens of thousands of people marched together with nurses in Dublin’s city centre on the 9th of February.

INMO media spokesperson Michael Pidgeon said “polling showed that more than 3 out of 4 people supported our case, and this is down to the incredible work nurses and midwives do every single day.”

The Nurses and Midwives organization was founded in 1919, and since then it kept its distance from the trade union, until the end of the 1980s, where that was not the case anymore. This year it took its second strike ever, its first strike occured in 1999. Following its first strike, it  became one of the most vocal opponents of austerity.

Michael Pidgeon, the INMO’s media spokesperson, said the proposals negotiated with the government “guarantee implementation of the safe staffing framework and increase pay and allowances for nurses and midwives, which should attract more to the Irish public health sector.”

Shifting the labour protest into the public sector enhances the issue’s image of trade unions as irresponsible special interest groups. The major lesson learned from the Irish nurses’ strike is that this is inevitably the case. Trade unions are still able to earn the name of being responsible actors, without having to take any radical action in defence of public services and wages.

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