Monday, April 24, 2006

NUCO Nurses May 1937

NUCO Journal

The County Officers Gazette

May 1937

Letter from Reginald Ruttledge

I once heard a certain Trade Union leader declare that he had been trying to organise Nurses for twenty years, and had given it up as a bad job. He was good enough to add that he wished the best of luck to anyone else who thought they could manage such a hopeless job.

As an interested observer, I have been watching the attempts which have been consistently made over the past year or two by Councillor Mrs Beatrice Drapper, J.P., and Nurse Iris Brook, S.R.N.,S.C.M., to enrol such workers in this Union.

Did I say " workers "? Yes, deliberately. For it is surely high time that that ridiculous superiority complex fostered for so many years by starchy

Matrons was rooted out and consigned to the deepest depths of perdition. Of all workers in the world to-day, Nurses and Miners are surely the most worthy of that high and noble title—the most worthy, too, to be linked together in the bonds of Trade Union comradeship. Both are essential to our life and well being—both are subject to shameless exploitation; but where the Miner is becoming more and more master of his destiny, the Nurse is still a slave to outworn conventions. By the thorny, and often bloody, path of ceaseless agitation, the Miner is, by gradual process, seizing for himself greater comfort, a larger share of the fruits of his toil—he is able to force the attention of the public to his needs by startling action; but the Nurse is debarred, by the very nature of the profession', from anything but verbal protest against injustice. Even that, by long and diabolical custom, is, she is told, " un-dignified." She must carry on and endure the vilest conditions, the longest hours, the most wretched remuneration. Why? Because the Matron had to do it when she was young. Because it is her job to serve, and not to grumble. Because sacrifice of self is ennobling; the endurance of discomfort and hardship and long hours on sore feet all in the direct line of succession to the Florence Nightingale tradition, a tradition that Florence Nightingale never intended.

It won't do. That hypocricy must be de-bunked, once and for all. There is not one of us who has not the deepest respect, the most reverent admiration, for the profession of nursing. There is not one of us who does not associate the sight of a nurse's uniform with the ministration of angels.

That respect and reverence will not suffer at the thought of nurses as " workers," willing still to give their utmost to their service.

But, at the same time demanding of us what they serve, that they should be treated as human beings, and not as feeling less machines.

There is but one way to force home upon public attention the crying need for reform of nurses conditions. That is by the trade Union road - the high road to happier life. Direct action is denied – individual protest is impossible. What is left ? Nursing associations, run by the same people who most bitterly oppose reform ? No, a Membership of a TRADE UNION openly and definitely avowed to reduce hours, to increase remuneration, to fight all injustice, to oppose unceasingly any and all imposition.

The Nursing Section of the National Union of County Officers is growing up in this spirit, It is slow, I know. I know, too, that the leaders of the Section, not forgetting Dr H. Morgan, Patrick McHugh, Doris Westmacott, will not give in.

That is why I take this opportunity of appealing to all Nurses who may read this article to stand out no longer, but to throw their weight into the fight for humanising their service, which the people I have mentioned, with the N.U.C.O. behind them, carrying on to final victory.


NOTE.—The Section is campaigning vigorously with special regard at the moment to the South Western London Area. Meetings have been held at Brompton, Hither Green, Wandsworth, Lewisham and Ladywell, and other meetings are projected. Branch Secretaries will be kept informed, and any information regarding the responsibilities in this direction will be welcomed by Beatrice Drapper.—Editor.