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Searching for a perfect union

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Student affairs editor Anthony Johnson dedicates his final blog to the subject of unions, and wants to know, which would you join? 

DANGER! Red Alert! I’m going to criticise our beloved unions!


Finishing your final placement and course makes everything feel so much more ‘real’ again. I first noticed it a few weeks ago as I took my two stepsons to the park.

I’M NOT A STUDENT ANYMORE!

I can be a real person (with a life) once again!

Now… admittedly, I’ve decided to study to become a health visitor this September. So… I’m really still a student in disguise. But I’m paid (which is the way that it should be for all healthcare students Mr Hunt!). However, when you get to spend a day at the beach looking at wedding venues, with the future Mrs Johnson, it’s hard not to feel a little bit grown up.

With that realisation has come the knowledge that I must become a unionised, professional member of the workforce.

I have always flirted with unions, a membership of Unison, a selfie with Unite’s MPs for Bursary Or Bust, perhaps a role as an RCN Pay Champion? (I’m officially the worst Pay Champion ever, I blame my impending wedding, two sons and dramatic end to my degree!).

“If we, as nurses, want to go back to a time when we had services which cared about us AND our patients, then we need to remember our roots again.”

Now, however, with the cost of union membership drastically increasing, as I move from student to worker, I have a decision to make - which union do I join?

This decision is one that all students should face. Regardless of your age, gender, race or background, you should be in a union!

Unions are the backbone of the working-class movement in this country. Enjoyed that state education? Blame your union. Had the pleasure of working in a socialised healthcare system? Blame the unions. Love knowing that you can consider having a baby and still be paid for the first 26 weeks? Blame your union!

The only reason that the progress (and momentum) of trade unionism has halted over the past 30 years has been because of the rise of neoliberalism.

Instead of the Kensyian economics, which built the welfare state, through a belief in state-owned, provided and managed services, our society now pushes the idea of lassiez-fare (liberal) economics.

Have a national health service which provides for the entire nation cradle to grave? Nah! Let’s have small, NHS trusts which waste millions on administration and are unable to stand up to the enormous wealth of private entities like Virgin.

Fund healthcare student’s education because we need to invest in them to retain them? Nah! Let’s force them to pay up to £26 an hour to care for patients in understaffed wards and call it training.

“It astounds me that there are so many nurses in this country who think membership and activism within a union is an anathema to the concept of nursing.”

What a surprise the number of applicants has dropped. I wonder why so many universities are having to rely upon the clearing process? 

If we, as nurses, want to go back to a time when we had services which cared about us AND our patients, then we need to remember our roots again. We are a profession. We are a workforce. We should all be unionised.

That doesn’t just mean membership of a union, that means being a trade unionist. You have to believe in our cause and our movement.

Trade unionism is about advancing the interests of the people within the union. With 1.3 million workers in the NHS, trade unionism in the NHS is about advancing the interests of all those workers and their families. That means that it includes patients because we could all one day be a patient!

It astounds me that there are so many nurses in this country who think that membership and activism within a union is an anathema to the concept of nursing. Our professional duty is to care and advocate for our patients. Unions, with their resources and membership, are the ideal breeding ground for that work on a national scale.

That doesn’t mean that unions are without criticism. I recently had lunch with a great nursing trade unionist whom I admire and respect. I don’t agree with her on every issue, but when she said that there are good and bad elements of all unions; I couldn’t agree with her more.

“When the working class has stood together we have won. When we have fought with each other and stepped back from unions and politics, we have lost.”

Our unions have been weakened since their power was checked by figures such as Thatcher, the frightening milk-snatcher.

Since then, our wages have stagnated, our services have been privatised and the boom-and-bust cycles of our economy have been driven by the unchecked ’crony capitalism’ of the city.

Hope has been awoken by the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the reinstatement of Socialism as a realistic economic alternative. There is more to do. We can move forward and backwards. As trade unionists and nurses, we have a duty to direct it in the direction of progress.

A union is only powerful if its members are active. The current weakness we see, where some will attempt to attack other unions to point-score, or others will work with conservative MPs even though they have consistently shown that they are opposed to nursing, is because we are not active within our movement.

When the working class has stood together we have won. When we have fought with each other and stepped back from unions and politics, we have lost.

We cannot afford to be neutral in this campaign for fair pay. We have to be active within it. I still don’t know which union I will end up in, but when I do decide, I will do my best to be an active member. For myself, my family and my patients their really is no alternative. 

Which union would you choose? Vote below and tell us why in the comments section

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Which union would you choose?

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