The development of trade union activity among nurses in Britain, 1910-76
This thesis examines the uneven development of trade union activity among hospital nurses in Britain between 1910-1976, within a 'situated' materialistic perspective on union growth. It is argued that both professionalism and unionism developed as a result of the decay of traditional nursing ideology in its home base of the voluntary hospital, and the failure of its proponents to win total hegemony in areas where nursing reform spread, notably the asylums, workhouse infirmaries and private nursing. In explaining these developments due emphasis is given to both material changes in the labour process and the influence of 'subjective' predispositions that are the result of prior and continuing orientations, and of the extent to which wider economic and political conditions are favourable. Thus, the expansion of the medical division of labour in the 'acute-oriented' voluntary hospitals, involving the delegation of more tasks to subordinates, encouraged the development of professionalism; while in private nursing the attempt to realise the value of nursing as a commodity was the key material influence. However, in both instances the social background of recruits was also influential in determining that 'professional strategies of occupational closure would be the favoured 'solutions' to problems caused by material changes. Thepartial success of professionalism in achieving the 1919 Nurses Registration Act was influenced by the temporarily favourable political and economic situation. Trade unionism arose out of the contradictions with traditional nursing ideology and the failure of professionalism to solve them fully. These contradictions were most intense in those sectors where work was of lower status, like the asylums and workhouse infirmaries, and where the social background of recruits would also incline them to be more inclined towards trade unionism. Changes in the tempo of popular struggle are also shown to have had an important influence on the development of trade unionism. Successive chapters follow the unfolding of these contradictions, ideological responses and wider influences through to the 1970's, where it is argued that, despite continuing differences, there has been some convergence between the apparently competing strategies of professionalism and unionionism. The relative importance of the purported'proletarianisation' of the nursing labour force, is also assessed.