Socialist Worker

Unison vows to defend Karen Reissmann against trust

by Colin Barker and Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2056

The lobby for Karen Reissmann (Pic: Andy Coles)

The lobby for Karen Reissmann (Pic: Andy Coles)

Supporters of Karen Reissmann – the psychiatric nurse and Unison union activist who was suspended by her employer last week – were heartened to hear that Unison’s national executive committee have pledged their full backing for Karen.

Karen was suspended after she gave an interview in which she explained why her union is opposed to the use of voluntary sector “social enterprises” to provide NHS services.

In a statement read to Unison’s national delegate conference the executive declared that the union would, “vigorously defend our members right to speak out without fear of persecution. Karen will be supported throughout this process and her interests will be positively defended”.

At an emergency meeting of Unison Manchester Community and Mental Health branch on Monday of this week Karen’s workmates requested that they be balloted for strike action in defence of their branch chair.

And on Thursday as the statement was being read out to delegates at the Unison conference in Bournemouth, over 100 members of the branch were lobbying a meeting of the board of their trust. Many were wearing specially made T-shirts and signs that read, “I am Karen Reissmann”.

Phil, a care worker on the protest, told Socialist Worker, “Karen has told the truth about the trust’s agenda. In some of the neediest areas in the country they are diluting community services to the bare minimum. Karen has stood up for services to mental health patients, and for carers’ jobs. The trust doesn’t like that.”

Joan Glynn, a team secretary, said, “If we let them hurt Karen, we let them hurt us all. All of us do this job to help our clients, that’s why we do it. We’re carers – and we care a lot about Karen. We won’t give in on this.”

One member preferred to speak anonymously. “We all feel quite threatened by this,” he said. “Will I be suspended for talking to you?”

Another of Karen’s colleagues, an ex-soldier, said, “The army was more caring than this trust. If we don’t take a stand now, there won’t be an NHS in ten years.”

NHS employers will be watching the outcome of this case closely. If an trust can successfully sack or discipline union activists who speak out against cuts and privatisation, then no opponent of the government’s agenda is safe.

Every Unison member, health worker and trade unionist should get behind Karen’s campaign, as should all who believe in the NHS and free speech.

What you can do:

  • Send an email of protest to Sheila Foley, chief executive of Manchester community and mental health trust, at [email protected] and send a copy to Karen at [email protected]
  • Sign the petition demanding Karen's reinstatement (go to » 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

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