Focus on the Future

This is a good time to review the principles upon which our nurses' movement was founded. Forged in the fights to get away from the American Nurses Association (ANA) and then to build a progressive national voice for nurses, these statements of principle can be reread here, appended to the presentation Quest for a Voice from the 2008 pre-convention program of the Massachusetts Nurses Association. Primary importance has always been given to winning enforceable RN staffing limits and then to creating a just healthcare system. To these ends, we built first the American Association of Registered Nurses (AARN) and then the National Nurses United (NNU).

With the demise of this year's Massachusetts healthcare ballot questions, the best chance in twenty years for Massachusetts patients and nurses to win enforceable staffing limits and to push back against the corporatization of health care has been aborted. Lulled by politicians' empty promises and misled by consultants who never for a day took care of the sick and dying, preaching "Ted Kennedy Incrementalism," Massachusetts nurses were prematurely pulled from the field of battle, to the delight of our enemies and the dismay of our friends.

What's done is done, at least for this year. What else is now at risk? Membership engagement at the local, state, regional and national levels, either directly or through elected delegates, must be strengthened. The growing ease with which staff engage in private side-bar discussions with management must be curtailed. We resolutely reject the term "partnership" when applied to labor-management relations, but its substance must be resisted as well. "Ted Kennedy Incrementalism" is the political equivalent of partnering with the boss.

The NNU is our most cherished creation to date. Centrifugal forces threaten to pull it apart into rival fiefdoms. Whether differences in political culture or differing conceptions of the ideal structure are the root causes, the members must insist on the transcending of these differences. Neither top-down centralism nor loose federalism meet the needs of two million unorganized nurses, the remaining independent organizations or the people we serve, trapped in a dysfunctional and deadly system of corporate profiteering on the sick.

We need to build a grassroots, rank-and-file movement of nurses and our allies to force our organizations to continue adhering to our founding principles and to demand the greatest member involvement in carrying out our mission. How about Nurses for a Democratic Union?

Happy Bastille Day!

Sandy Eaton, RN, July 14, 2014