‘A union is only as powerful as its members – the silent majority need to wake up’

A mighty wake-up call is surely needed in a time when a Government with a large majority is not going to be reliant on a populist vote for some considerable time.

Maria Trewern
5 May 2021
RCN Voice of Nursing

What is it that makes politicians ignore such a large nursing union?

Recently, I read a nurse’s blog which asked the question about how we can empower nurses. To be honest, perhaps the question should have been how all nurses can be or become empowered to influence as it discussed more individual rather than collective action.

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In my view, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) may be the most popular nursing union, but I am not always sure it is recognised by politicians as being “the” leadership of nursing or perhaps it is when it suits their particular agenda, and free to ignore at other times? What is it that makes politicians ignore such a large nursing union?

Well one reason might be that so often, we see evidence of apathy amongst members who often don’t bother to vote in elections for their representatives on committees or council or even the Presidency – turnout being often anything an average on 6% on occasions (but not often). Given the size of the membership – what speaks loudest to politicians? Large numbers of active, vocal members who they think will actually act when asked, or a vocal small minority that can be disregarded. Moreover, what does that say about our “member-led” organisation or even worse the appetite of members to do anything to empower themselves let alone the organisation. Certainly, I have often heard from some politicians their view that the RCN has not shown that members are keen to actually take any action or make a stand but rather say they might. However, I sincerely hope the action in Northern Ireland has dented that one somewhat and commend colleagues there for taking the risk and showing what can be achieved when working collectively together.

One moot point for all of us, is that has so far been an exceptionally long haul on the safe staffing campaign for England. It even took a long time just to get members signatures on a petition at the time – a petition that should really have resonated to us all very loudly just from our own daily experience of unsafe, scary shifts.

Perhaps it is high time the “silent majority” RCN members need to wake up and take a hard look at how they can both be empowered and empower the RCN – they are the RCN in fact. It’s time to stop leaving it up to the “others”; all members are the others, and we all need to take action to ensure we empower the union and, by default, all of us, our colleagues and above patients. Such a mighty wake-up call is surely needed in a time when a Government with a large majority is not going to be reliant on a populist vote for some considerable time.

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If asked what benefit is there is being active and gaining empowerment via the RCN (or any union)? Well, from experience, I can confidently say that getting active in a union brings huge benefits individually with tremendous education available; Education on workforce rights and the law, negotiation and communication skills just for starters. Such training gives clear opportunities to gain access to your employers, managers, Boards, and Politicians to engage and influence. More importantly, it increased knowledge and skills builds confidence in you, your confidence and the ability to speak up knowledgeably on staff and clinical issues. Issues that affect us all and impacts on patient care.

The more union members active in a workplace, the more empowered as individuals we are and as a union collectively are as a very loud, authoritative voice to influence both at work and nationally. The leaders of Nursing – standing as one, strong and resolute.

Your challenge for 2021, take a leap of faith, have a go and see how becoming active, politically engaged with your organisation will empower you now and for the future.

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