[Marxism] Victory to Victorian nurses

Nick Fredman nick.fredman at optusnet.com.au
Thu Mar 1 16:34:47 MST 2012

Michael Perelman asked if the nurses (or "nurses and midwives" as my partner
would say) are the most militant union in Victoria. They might be up there
but Victoria has the most extant tradition of blue collar militant unionism
in Australia, with a red flag, if a tatty one, flying above Trades Hall in
inner-city Melbourne. The Electrical Trades Union is probably the most
industrially militant and politically advanced, giving lots of money to the
Greens and even a decent chunk to the Socialist Party's Steve Jolly, the
most electorally successful far leftist for some time. Incidentally I had a
work function in a pub yesterday and in another room there appeared to be a
function for ETU organisers - half had that union's t-shirt on, and half had
the distinctive red t-shirt of the nurses (and midwives) campaign. They'd
probably been to an ANF rally earlier. There's strong solidarity at this
level but a coordinated campaign to resist public sector cut-backs and defy
the punitive industrial laws is really needed.

Andrew Pollack mentioned international solidarity. Appropriate comments at
the Facebook of the premier http://www.facebook.com/tedbaillieu might at
least help annoy the arsehole. I could certainly pass on contacts and sites
for Greek hospital occupations. There must be a few Greek speakers in the
membership, Melbourne being the second largest city of Greeks after Athens.
There are also lots of recent migrants and non-citizen residents in the
profession, as state governments are having a desperate time trying to get
enough people here to train. Which relates to general points Andrew raises:

On 2/03/12 7:30 AM, "Andrew Pollack" <acpollack2 at gmail.com> wrote:

> * The skilled nature of their work, the very high demand for it, and the
> relatively high wages extracted in many workplaces as a result;
> * Despite the above, the continued highly oppressive nature of the job,
> especially as hospitals, profit or nonprofit, have joined in the
> labor-squeezing management trends of recent decades.

My day job for the last year involves research into post-school education -
a new area for me after study and work in more general political and
workplace sociology - and one thing striking me is the role of further
education in a central contradiction for capitalism today: in the drive to
increase or even maintain the rate of profit, there's drives to both
increase the quality of labour power through further education, and to
increase productivity through undermining conditions at work. People on the
whole are both more educated and facing less secure and more stressful
employment. That's behind ideas of a "precariat" and Paul Mason's more
optimistic analysis of why young people are "kicking off everywhere"
http://www.versobooks.com/books/1075-why-its-kicking-off-everywhere (not
that I can write anything clearly Marxist within grant-funded research!)

Nurse are no exception here. They generally now have in Australia degrees
rather than vocational diplomas, and increasingly need post-graduate
diplomas, such as my partner's midwifery qualification, to do work that's a
bit more interesting (if hardly better paid), and professional masters are
proliferating in this field as many others (even after a PhD I've found it
necessary to do a master's in applied statistics to get research work, and
my two sisters are similarly juggling vocational masters, small children and

At the time work is increasingly casualised and conditions, such as the
nurse/patient ratios in Victoria, undermined.

A somewhat more heterodox idea I want to pursue further is the alienating
role of status hierarchies in much white collar work. A lot of doctors can
be arseholes to nurses and a lot of academics can be arseholes to other
university staff, even if these Brahmins are not upper-managers per se who
might be defined due to their explicitly different power and role at work as
in a different class per se.

Conditions vary of course with how successful unions have been in
ameliorating exploitation. We're seriously thinking of moving to Canada for
a while as according to a fiend who's moved to BC with her partner from
their midwives earn nearly twice as much and have considerably more autonomy
at work. 

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