A wave of anger is spreading among trade unionists, health workers and user groups in Manchester following the suspension of longstanding nurse and union activist Karen Reissmann from her job on Friday of last week.
Managers at Manchester community and mental health trust suspended Karen, the chair of her Unison union branch and a community psychiatric nurse who has worked for the NHS for 25 years. They claimed they no longer had confidence in her as an employee and that she had misused work time.
Karen was dealing with an extremely vulnerable client when a manager interrupted her, insisting that she pack up and leave the premises immediately – without finishing her consultation.
In a recent interview with a health service magazine Karen had spoken out against the use of voluntary sector bodies to run parts of the NHS, including at her own trust.
She said that trade unionists ought to defend the pay and conditions of staff whose jobs are taken out of the NHS. Management said that this had brought the trust into disrepute.
'Its absolute rubbish,' says fellow nurse Val Midson. 'There's not a single person here who would question Karen's professionalism and commitment.
'I've worked with her since 1985 and I can tell you that she always goes the extra mile for her clients.
'There is a political agenda behind this attack. Our managers are desperate to impose cuts and privatisation to save £3 million this year.
'They know the union is the biggest obstacle to this – as we proved when we took successful strike action earlier this year. In order to weaken the union they want to remove Karen.'
Alan Hartman, who heads up the trust's user group, told Socialist Worker that he was 'gobsmacked' at the trust's actions and that he was among the first to sign a petition in Karen's defence.
Over 150 angry Unison members packed into a lunchtime union meeting on Monday to discuss their response to Karen's suspension.
They voted unanimously to call for an immediate ballot on indefinite strike action.
Then they went to lobby the chief executive. The meeting decided to lobby the trust's board of directors on Thursday of this week.
Occupational therapist Jane Leigh told Socialist Worker, 'Defending Karen is about defending democracy. It's about the right to speak out when things are wrong. Last week our trust closed down a respite centre. We must have the right to tell people about that.'
The response of Karen's workmates and fellow trade unionists has given her a boost.
'When I entered the meeting room on Monday the place erupted in cheering and members gave me a standing ovation,' she told Socialist Worker.
'When you are facing this kind of attack, it is vital to know that your colleagues are behind you. Our branch has a fine record of defending its members and the NHS. Our trust's bosses are going to have a fight on their hands.'
Unison's national executive was set to discuss its response to Karen's suspension as Socialist Worker went to press. Action will be needed. Val says,'We've decided that no one is going to touch Karen's workload and the mood here is to strike.'
What you can do:
- Send an email of protest to Sheila Foley, chief executive of Manchester community and mental health trust, at firstname.lastname@example.org and send a copy to Karen at email@example.com
- Sign the petition demanding Karen's reinstatement (go to » kreissmann.741.com) and take it round your workplace
- Raise the issue in your union branch and ask for a message of support and donation to the Manchester community and mental health Unison branch. Send it to the union office, 70 Manchester Road, Manchester M21 9UN