Kerri Nuku, Kaiwhakahaere
NZNO Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa
Nurses have long been marginalised in the politics of health and unfortunately, NZNO hasn’t been a strong enough advocate to challenge that. For years the organisation has made compromises and concessions because it didn’t have the political will or the belief in our collective strength to challenge power.
But we need to get past the idea that we’re non-partisan. Our work is political, our lives are political, and the powerful will exploit our apathy to their advantage. As health workers we’re advocates for our patients and as a union and professional organisation, we advocate for a better health system. To do that we must engage in politics. And by that I don’t mean endorsing a political party. I mean building and pushing our own vision of health and holding all decision-makers to account to get there.
After all, unions have always fought on broader political causes because workers’ lives don’t just begin and end when they clock in. Unions have been part of the fight for Indigenous liberation, women’s rights, racial justice, climate justice and the peace movement across the world. As the union saying goes, “an injury to one is an injury to all.” We are part of a long history of collective struggle for all people.
I also want to point out that it’s not only our unionist roots that demand political courage, but our professional responsibilities too. When standards of practice are watered down or public health measures are eased against our better judgement, those are the result of political decisions that we must challenge.
So now, with the general election on the horizon, we start seeing National and the Act Party rolling out racist rhetoric, including calls to extinguish the Māori Health Authority. They’re also advocating the same economic policies that gutted our health system. At the same time Labour will continue to make promises they won’t deliver on. We need to watch all this and be ready to push back on it.
From this point on, NZNO must change the way it operates if we want to go from conservative to progressive, from reactionary to proactive. If we want what’s best for ourselves and our communities, we need to go hard and front foot on political issues.
We must start to empower people to do their own thinking and not be afraid to front divisive issues on race, gender, sexuality, class, and power. We can’t sit and wait for change to happen for us. We’ve got to be courageous and realise we have the power to make change. Not only do we have the power, we have the right and the responsibility to stand up, be heard and fight for a better future.