Does your country need more nurses, (or doctors, engineers or scientists)? This is how direct democracy tackles the issue.

On November 28th, the citizens of, Switzerland, the only established direct democracy in the World (since the Ancient Greeks!) will decide several national issues. When I say decide, I mean they decide; there is nothing the executive, the legislative of the highest court in the land can do to prevent the referendum, which are mandated by law or mandated by the people once a group of citizens manages to collect the required number of signatures.

Nor can the politicians of the judges stop or sidetrack the results of the referendum, the results are binding.

This means that nobody, short of a later popular referendum, can overturn the results.

In this system, the executive, the legislative and the supreme court can not call referendums either, even if the three branches unanimously agree, only the people can do that, or if the law (which have to be accepted by the people) mandates a referendum.

I will concentrate today on the first of the three referendum. It is to decide if the nursing care system will be strengthened by graduating more nurses, improving working conditions and salaries for nurses in hospitals, all hospitals, public and private.

I hope today´s post will help you ask yourself, and ask the politicians in your country, the question “why we can do that here about nursing or any other issue?”.

Keep in mind that Switzerland has already the best system of universal health care in the World. Interestingly, it is privately funded and privately managed, but the government helps pay the premiums of people with limited resources. Regardless of the Swiss healt system, a group of, mostly women nurses got this referendum under way.

The referendum is, again, another lesson for people in other countries of the power the people of Switzerland have over their politicians. In Switzerland, the people really set the agenda but, unlike what happens in your representative democracy (parlamentarian or presidential).

One of the lessons for other countries is that the referendum was set in motion by a group of mostly women nurses. In no other country do women have such power; never mind the verbose speeches about “empowering women” spewing out of the mouths of activists and “progressive” politicians in other countries. The reality, the hard truth, is that, because of the direct democracy the Swiss have, Swiss womenand men, have more real power than the women and men of any other country. The Swiss do not need activists to push politicians; they organize referendums that give politicians no option but to act as the voters want.

The committee who organised the referendum is not a political party,a nurse’s union or another lobby, but it could have been. Most referendums in Switzerland are not organised by political parties, unions or professional associations, probably because it would hurt the credibility of the proposal. Even parties not represented in parliament can organize a referendum in Switzerland. In no other country can the representatives of minority voters put an issue that concerns them to a binding popular regferendum.

The committee collected the required 100 000 signatures within the 18 month allowed.

This gave the committee the authority to present the proposal that would go to referendum to the Swiss government. The government felt the proposal went too far and presented to the committee a counter proposal. Under the Swiss system, the committee could accept the proposal. If it did, the referendum would not take place. In this case, the committee rejected the government counterprosal, this means the binding referendum will take place on Nov. 28th, 2021.

The counter proposal prepared by the government was a joint effort of the executive and the legislature. That the executive and the legislature cooperate in such efforts, instead of the usual mutual criticism of the executive and the legislative that we see in representative democracies, is one of the beneficial unintended consequences of direct democracy.

It is very interesting to see how direct democracy pushes Swiss politicians to cooperate. It is also interesting to see how their cooperation does not take place to neutralize the power of the people, because they can’t.

The referendum asks voters to decide if the government must put in place measures to accomplish the following:

The federal government and the cantonal governments (cantons are not unlike American States, but with considerable more autonomy) must train enough nurses in Switzerland to ensure the current shortage of nurses disappears.

The governments must also ensure that the social value of nursing increases. This will be done by improving the working conditions of nurses and their salaries.

The national discussions that all referendums in Switzerland trigger, has increased the awareness of the public about the shortage of nurses. Preliminary surveys show that 82 percent of the Swiss will vote “yes” in the referendum.

The discussions also educate people on the issue, so that they vote on the basis of ample information from all points of view. Depending on the issue, votes may show up at different levels. Perhaps some issues are of no interest to many voters, or they decide not to vote for other motives.

One of the positive effects of the measures is that Switzerland will be training enough nurses to be self sufficient in nurses. This means that many countries with lower incomes than Switzerland, who now see how they spend huge amounts of money to train nurses who then leave for other countries, may see that fewer nurses abandon their home country. It is obvious that rich countries must not poach professionals from countries with lower resources. What happens with nurse also happens with doctors, engineers, scientists, etc. How are those countries going to advance on their own if their professionals leave? Not likely, so they end up as low skill labour pools to cheaply manufacture goods for the large corporations of the developed World. These are separate issues, but of unimaginable imporance for poorer countries.

The main purpose of the referendums is not to help less developed countries. But the mechanism of the referendum allows people, ordinary people, to put to a binding national vote any issue. That is impossible in all representative democracies.

In representative democracies, the people have to make a lot of noise to “convince” (scare, really) the politicians into action. However, the politicians in representative democracies can not be forced to act, there is no mechanism for the people to impose their will on the executive and the legislative. The ruling politicians may calculate that other issues will come up before the next election. It can also happen that, even it those in power decide to act to please the protesters, by election time, another party may win and the whole process has to start all over again; the Swiss can act on the specific issue, and it does not matter if at election time another party wins; the referendum has to be carried out just the same and the results are equally binding.

So why you can not organize in your country binding referendums like the Swiss do? I believe it is because most people do not know about direct democracy. They do not know that itb gives them more power and that it works better than representative democracy. They do not know because in the schools, in the media and, perticularly, the politicians themselves, progressive or conservative do not want to give up their power, which is the major thing direct democracy requires. All they hear is generalities about “our great constitution”, as if it was a document for eterenity. The Swiss modify their constitution regularly, that is how they introduced direct democracy in 1867. Before then, Swiss politicians (representative democracy) did not want direct democracy either!

In my twitter and facebook conversations I notice how many ordinary people just do not know what direct democracy is. Some even believe it is mob rule, such is the degree of misinformation! No mob rule in Switzerland, just rational, calmly debated referendums and votes.

Victor Lopez

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