It’s the first day of spring – a year ago today the ANF (Vic. branch) began selling the 3/4 length campaign shirts that are now iconic and recognisable across the state. Nobody had any idea, then, that we were still at the beginning of the longest period of industrial negotiation and conflict in Victorian nursing and midwifery history.

All of which I’ve discussed previously. The theme of today’s post is what I learned from the campaign, what I believe my nursing and midwifery colleagues have learned, and what Premier Baillieu and his government seem still not to have registered.

This historic period has had significant resonance for me, both professionally and personally – I’ve made friends I hope to have for the rest of my life, lost and irretrievably altered preexisting relationships with friends and colleagues, been inspired by depths of dedication and commitment I can only hope to emulate, and changed my career path.  I have had a (very transitory and small-level) taste of fame – being recognised by people you don’t know is both flattering and disconcerting; when it’s management, more the latter than the former. More importantly, I have been recognised and valued by people I hold in the very highest esteem – a fact that still brings tears of gratitude, humility and appreciation to my eyes. And I have managed to  distress my rather right-leaning, not-a-fan-of-unions father, though that’s not anything new 😉

Here’s what I’ve learned, and what I hope my colleagues will take with them: I have more power as an individual than I realised – I can have an influence on people I’ve never met, defuse and debate and inform, use words to make meaningful differences to many people, and contribute to my profession in a way I never realised was possible. I have seen the impact my activism has had on a large-scale issue. I have knocked on doors and gathered petitions and seen the effect of one-on-one education about our issues on the public. I have been interviewed on television, on radio, and in press, and discovered that I can advocate for my profession as effectively as I advocate for my patients. I understand the power of my union, united – I do not stand alone, I stand with over 65,000 colleagues here, over 220,00 nurses and midwives across the nation, and with millions of union members across hundreds of professions and industries. I have found my voice, and my power, and I’m not putting either away.

And I now know that community support and valuing our integrity , while useful, is not enough – an educated public is one that values what it has, and will join the fight to keep it. For the first time, Victorians really understand what ratios are, why they’re vital, and why we need to keep the acute public sector all registered – we’re unique in the country, we’re not going to let that go, and now the public get it they won’t, either.

Earlier this week, in response to a poll showing that Labor now out-polls the Liberal-National Party Coalition in Victoria, Herald-Sun opinion editor James Campbell wrote that

Asked to explain the drop in support for the Premier [Baillieu’s supporters] point to the very personal campaigns that have been run against him by teachers’ and nurses’ unions as part of their campaigns for new EBAs – pointing out that these will be a distant memory by the time Baillieu faces the electorate in 2014.

To which I say two things. First, the reason our campaigns have been personal is because nurses, midwives and teachers consider our careers and our responsibilities part of ourselves. Yes, there are those who go to work, perform task-based work, and leave; they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by those for whom the quality of our work, the impact and resonance of our care, the calibre of our professionalism, is an expression of who we are.

Ask me to describe myself and the first thing I say is that I’m a nurse – it’s not my job, my profession, it’s who I am. (Here’s why that doesn’t make nursing a vocation.)

So when you, Mr Baillieu, try to introduce measures that will irreversibly, undeniably erode my ability to do my work, that will see my colleagues leave and my profession wither, that will harm the public we’re both supposed to serve – I take that personally. It may have been about money for you but for us it was and is about very real, wholly tangible lives. For teachers, who are no less committed to their profession than we, those lives are the future of our state.

Which brings me to my second point – two years, two days and four weeks is not nearly enough, not nearly enough, not nearly enough time for us to forget. As time passes the public will unquestionably have other, more pressing concerns, as our campaign will fade from the forefronts of their minds. You (or your party, should another premier succeed you before September 29th, 2014) will no doubt make promises of post-election sweetners, in hopes the electorate will forget the promises already broken, and paint dark pictures of statewide poverty if another party is elected.

And we will be out in force, reminding the public of how you tried to compromise us, compromise their best interests. How you turned a short negotiation into an expensive, months-long fight that we won. We will door knock and letter drop and contact the media. I, for one, will point out that you  and your advisers seem unable to recognise when it’s time to reconsider, that you and your ministers appear to have no concept of the subtlety of negotiation but frame conflict as binary – black and white, win and lose. Most troubling, you and your government seem to have no learning curve – for here you are again, fighting the same battle, this time with teachers.

The difference this time is that they have a concrete promise, can focus on money as a core platform of their log of claims, can leave the classroom in numbers nurses and midwives never could, with full support of their management, and with approval of their stakeholders – parents.

Parents won’t forget. Students, many of whom will be eligible to vote in 2016, won’t forget. Patients won’t forget. Families won’t forget. Teachers won’t forget. Nurses and midwives? We won’t forget, either.

819 days, Mr Baillieu – don’t worry, my friends and  I will help you remember.