Date of Completion

January 1982


Sociology, Industrial and Labor Relations




This is a comprehensive study of a nurses' strike. The impetus for the study, which uses the case study method, was that prevailing social theory would not have predicted this strike. Yet such strikes by middle-level, white-collar professionals are a growing phenomenon.^ The study found that conditions associated with blue-collar strikes also existed in this white-collar strike: job insecurity, lack of advancement opportunity, disputes over worker rights and responsibilities, and the workers' feeling that management was indifferent to their welfare. Nurses' work conditions revealed the process of proletarianization as exemplified by the growing rationalization of their work. Nursing was also undergoing the process of professionalization, as evidenced by increased educational and licensure requirements, and revised nurse practices acts.^ Most social theorists have approached professionalization and proletarianization as mutually exclusive processes. Both, however, were found to affect the nurses studied. Professional issues centering around the role of the nurse were important in causing the strike. This finding indicates that professional identity can be a strong impetus for labor militancy, as opposed to the deterrent most social theory has suggested it to be.^ Further, the existence of a client group can intensify labor-management conflict. The nurses viewed patient welfare as an important professional responsibility. When hospital policy, of which the nurses were critical, could be seen as harmful to patients, it added an altrusitic motive to the nurses' labor militancy.^ The study's theoretical implications center on the need for social theory which deals with middle-layer occupations, to suggest how professionalization and proletarianization interact. Continued exclusionary debate over which of the two processes is occurring is not likely to be fruitful. The growing alliance between professionals and labor unions, as exemplified by these nurses, may reflect the convergence of these two processes. Possibilities for future social change directions are two-fold. First, negotiating professionals may begin to settle for labor union gains traditionally limited to job security and pay raises. Second, professionals may push labor unions to emphasize issues of worker self-management. ^