Collective mobilization in the hospital sector :
protest movements or consensual efforts to improve conditions ?
This article focuses on labor relations in the hospital, the claim being that collective mobilization in this sector is not just a matter of protest but may also involve consensual efforts to improve conditions. To demonstrate this, types of protest movements in the hospital sector are reviewed and hypotheses put forward to explain the empirical rarity of such movements in the hospital sector in France. Subaltern status (in terms of class or gender) does not suffice to explain how conflicts get moderated in that sector. The symbolic « public service » dimension and the practical « care-giving » dimension, both relevant to the public hospital framework, play an ambivalent role. An examination of organizational contexts leads to explaining the « silence » of hospital nurses by identifying modes and conditions characterizing what I call a « consensual » mobilization dynamic : intense cooperation in some units, participant campaigns to improve care quality, interprofessional coordination around ad hoc projects, and the influence of practical representations produced by earlier (consensual) mobilizations. These fundamental components of hospital caretaking activity work to create profound adherence to this hard, useful profession, even though local responsibilities of this sort only raise the same question – the perimeter of hospital nurse action – at a more general level.