Nursing Protest at the University of Michigan

October 17, 2011

Political Theory, Uncategorized

Just last week my roommate and I were sitting in our living room when we heard someone yelling through a  mega-phone outside. We opened the window to see what was going on, and what we saw surprised us. There were more than 400 nurses walking through the campus at the University of Michigan in bright red shirts carrying huge signs. My roommate and I ran down to see what they were saying. When we got down there we asked nurses what was going on and they said they were there, “to protest proposed cuts to their benefits and wages” (anonymous). The University of Michigan Health System says they need to alter the nurse’s contract to stay competitive in the tough economic environment (Brennan and Corrigan 1).

The Protest

One of my roommates is studying nursing at the University of Michigan, and I asked her what her thoughts were about the situation. She said that she thought the budget cuts were ridiculous. She knows how hard nurses work. The world socialist website said the nurses work up to, “12-16 hour shifts as the primary care to the sick and dying, they have firsthand knowledge of the crisis in rising health care costs, and the cruel conditions facing poor people with no insurance, and the enormous profits generated by the health care industry” (Brennan and Corrigan 1).

A Sign

The article at the world socialist website about this situation quoted lots of nurses echoing the same thoughts. They were all concerned that the cuts would drive the best nurses away to other institutions. They also thought the budget cut wasn’t fair to the nurses. The nurses don’t think the poor economic situation is a good reason for all the proposed budget cuts (Brennan and Corrigan 1).

On the back of their red shirts there was a saying that said, “Nurses make the difference at Michigan.” Their signs read things like, “Unfair Labor Practice.” And their saying went, “What do we want?…A contract! When do we want it? …Now!” The nurses have been “working with out a contract since June 30 2011, and current negotiations with university officials have repeatedly stalled in the intervening period” (Brennan and Corrigan 1).


By expressing their anger with a protest their point was made. They received a lot of attention with the use of their protest that walked through campus. The nurses are clearly very frustrated and aren’t afraid to show that since they made such a public appearance. Some nurses even had their families walking with them in the protest to support them.

Maybe the protest was the only way the nurses could guarantee fair treatment. They clearly work really hard, as shown by their long shifts, and have gathered a lot of knowledge on the subject. And maybe the protest will work to help them. But the university is going to do what it thinks is necessary. So hopefully they acknowledge the nurse’s concerns.

In our Political Science 101 class at the University of Michigan our next theme to explore is on the rulers and the ruled. Specifically we’re going to look at what the government system does and why we need it. But I think the nursing protest is a good example of a rulers v ruled situation, and I’m interested in what people think about it.

The last theme we explored in our Political Science 101 class was about identity. In this theme we read Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. The main argument of Bowling Alone was that people today are less committed to communal ties and that this is bad for a democratic society (Appiah). Appiah’s title for his article reflects his argument; he says more people are bowling alone instead of getting involved in bowling leagues, which shows how society is becoming more individualistic and less involved (Appiah). Another way he shows people are less involved is by showing that people are voting less in the U.S. He says, “Consider the well-known decline in turnout in national elections over the last three decades” (Appiah 1). And what is a democracy if people aren’t participating? Appiah truly thinks communal ties are important for a functioning democracy.

Is this nursing group creating communal ties that Appiah would argue are good for a democratic society? Would the protest have even worked if people were less involved? Why does this group of nurses even need to be governed by the university? Was it acceptable for the nurses to challenge the university with the use of a very public protest? How should the university handle this situation? How do we keep the rulers and the ruled happy?

Works Cited

World Socialist Website. Matthew Brennan and Zac Corrigan. 15 October 2011. International Committee of the Fourth International. 17 October 2011. <;

Bowling Alone. Robert Putnam. 1995. Journal of Democracy. 17 October 2011. <;



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5 Comments on “Nursing Protest at the University of Michigan”

  1. brianfrankel Says:

    The current nurses’ strike is representative of the ic economic difficulties currently facing our country. Over the past year, we have seen very publicized strikes at Verizon, the NFL, and currently the NBA, just to name a few. What was common in all of these strikes is an inability for the owners (rulers) to come to agreement with their employees (the ruled) over how to address the new economic climate. Should the owners who have taken such a risk in their prospective businesses have to lose profits to keep the salaries of their workers constant? Or should should workers have to share the brunt of the burden caused by the economic hardship?

    To the question of whether or not the nursing protests add to a sense of community, I am not sure. While the nursing community itself may be solidified by the protests, it is equally possible that the nurses are isolating other workers in the hospital and UM community. For instance, doctors who are seeing their salaries go down due to lower patient visits, custodians who are being let go due to budget cuts, and professors and their assistants who have to renegotiate contracts with the university may all see the nurses as acting selfishly and not acting as part of the greater UM community by protesting a wage cut that is meant to be for the “greater good.”

  2. Baihan Li Says:

    Last year when I was still studying in University of WIsconsin-Madison, a giant protest against the government bill broke out. It lasted for about half a month and a great number of GSIs cancelled several classes so that people could go to support this protest. However, when our GSI, a lady from Japan, talked about this event, one of her sentence engraved into my mind; she said,”Well, to me, Americans are like spoiled children.”

    This comment could be quite offensive, because overall there is nothing wrong for people to fight against unjust bill inflicted on them; similarly, there is nothing wrong for people to shout out for their own rights.

    However, the logic only makes sense with a background named America. If we try to cut the aid of nurse in Africa or north Korea, would anybody jump out and express their unsatisfaction?

    The definition of content is actually not based on how much you have got but based on how much you know you did not get. For example, people in primary society might enjoy a higher level of happiness as they never knew their life could be better: they were never aware of the possibility of automobiles so a horse is enough. Similarly, if the aid for nurses was just as little as it is now, the protest might not probably happen.

    As for the social bond, I would say, well, a steady communal ties would only form in a time of disaster or unsetteling. When people find their own positions in the society, a group becomes unnecessary for them. According to Hobbes, people act out of their fear. Without the fear that their benefit would be injured, people might not be as active in social activities as they are. Therefore, it is impossible to define whether this protest is good or not.

  3. Achin Jain Says:

    I feel that a ‘common cause’ is a necessary reason to bring people together. If people see a common cause they would collaborate, even if their interests, personalities and ideologies do not match.
    I would like to focus on the first question that the post poses in the last paragraph. I agree that nursing groups create communal ties that Appiah would think are good for a democratic society. Bowling Alone says that “networks of civic engagement foster sturdy norms of generalized reciprocity and encourage the emergence of social trust” (Appiah 1); similarly by collaborating against unfair labor practice, there is an unintentional and indirect emergence of trust among the nurses. “At the same time, networks of civic engagement embody past success at collaboration, which can serve as a cultural template for future collaboration” (Appiah 1); similarly nurses will have a sense of community after the protests, and this will help them coordinate and collaborate future events together whether it be for protests, social or professional gatherings, “Finally, dense networks of interaction probably broaden the participants’ sense of self, developing the “I” into the “we,” or (in the language of rational-choice theorists) enhancing the participants’ “taste” for collective benefits” (Appiah 1). I feel that this is the most important advantage of communal ties. Nurses may be participating in the protest for their own benefit, but communal ties helped them recognize collective benefit of the protest.

    There are some other recent examples of the ‘ruled’ taking the protest on to the streets. The first one being the ‘Anti-Corruption’ protest in India where millions of protesters took the streets to join a social activist called Anna Hazare who fasted for 14 days as a peaceful protest against corruption.

    The second one being, ‘Occupy the Wall Street.’ The tag line for this movement is what is striking to me: ” We are the 1%. 100% Proud.”

    Communal ties like these is what should be an obligation in a democratic society. Otherwise, ‘democracy’ would only be a mere word with lot of positive characteristics that the people preach but do not practice.

  4. Jordan Wylie Says:

    I definitely believe that the protests led by the nurses would be a communal tie that Appiah would approve of. Like you said, Appiah believes people are becoming disengaged from society not and taking an active role. These nurses obviously have an issue that is important to them and took pubic action. Clearly, these nurses are not backing away and are participating in our democracy. They are using their rights to assemble and freedom of speech to fight for what they believe in. Because of this, I believe that Appiah would be supportive of the nurses simply because they are participating in society.

    To answer your question about if the protest would have had the same affect if there were less people, I do not believe so. When just a few people are protesting or fighting against something people tend to ignore them. Think about the people on the diag who preach to passing students about their religion and the importance of abolishing abortion. I don’t know about you, but I usually ignore them. However, when an entire group brought those very large (and in my opinion obscene) photographs of aborted fetuses, people started paying attention. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If the nurses truly feel that they are being cheated then they need to make their opinion known. Without voicing their opinion they will never get the respect and attention they deserve. In order to get this acknowledgement they need to have a enough people in order to make an impact.

    Lastly, keeping the rulers and the ruled happy is difficult, but not impossible. People need to compromise and negotiate. We are in a economic downfall and everyone needs to give up a little bit. Employees may not be able to receive their normal bonuses if they want to keep a job. With respect to their nurses – the university needs to recognize the importance of their nurses. The nurses definitely should not be taken advantage of. With that being said, the nurses also need to be ready to make compromises. They may not be able to receive all the benefits they are demanding. Each side needs to be prepared to not completely win, but when they make compromises eventually everyone does win.

  5. schoemad Says:

    When reading about the nurses protest, it immediately reminded me of the protests on Wall Street that started taking place about a month ago. Although the two protests at first glance do not seem to share many similarities, they both have a few common characteristics.
    The Wall Street protests deal with the disparity between the wealthy and the poor. As the income gap increases annually, many people throughout the nation continue to go without healthcare and other essentials. The people of this protest have been using a campaign which compares the 1% to the 99%. This 1% refers to the wealthy, that control 40% of The United States wealth (Deprez 1). The nurses were using this protest to share their message regarding their profit cuts. Although the people who came together for both of these events had different arguments to settle, these groups of people banded together to fight as a community. There is no reason for the people to be silenced and Mill would fight to say that they have every right to speak their mind.
    Fortunately for the nurses, they were treated with respect while protesting. During the Wall Street protests, there were many people who were attacked by the police using beating, dragging, and other forceful means (LeTendre 1). Protests that utilize nonviolent strategies to spread the word should not be attacked by anyone and I am very glad that the university did not use this method to silence the nurses’ protest. I believe the best way for the university to handle this situation would be to release a statement showing that they are aware of the situation and that they hope to solve the budget cuts soon.


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