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Ester C. Apesoa-Varano and Charles S. Varano

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Nurses and Labor Activism in the United States: The Role of Class, Gender, and Ideology

The authors discuss professionalism and unionism among nurses and the relation of class and gender to these labor strategies. Given that nursing is an occupation composed predominantly by women, how nurses seek to improve their occupational lives and serve their patients must be understood in relation to patriarchal structures of society in general, and medicine in particular. The article provides a historical overview of nursing that outlines four main ideologies that have characterized this occupation: apprenticeship, professional, managerial, and unionist. Each ideology reflects class divisions within nursing, and each incorporates gender. The authors illustrate current ideological frameworks in nursing through a content analysis of CalNurse and of research on nursing students from a California university. They conclude by discussing how the direction and ideology of labor activism might be reframed to more effectively mobilize nurses, reaffirm their occupational identities, and advance the well-being of those they serve. Emphasis is on how nurses’ struggle for occupational justice must include a broader and more inclusive social justice component in the provision of healthcare.

nursing activism, work, occupations and professions, inequality, stratification

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 31, No. 3 (2004): 77-104