Health workers in Manchester who care for people with mental illness are this week taking part in their second three-day strike in defence of their Unison union branch secretary, Karen Reissmann.
Nurses, occupational therapists and care assistants swelled picket lines outside the North Manchester general hospital, with almost 100 picketing on Monday morning. There were also large pickets at other trust sites.
“The mood is absolutely solid,” Unison union rep Vall Midson told Socialist Worker. “If anything, people are more angry now than they were at the beginning of the dispute.
“The way people are being treated by the trust has been absolutely disgusting.”
Strikers were shocked to find out that their employers had moved their pay period to ensure that wages for both their three-day strikes would be taken out of this month’s pay packet – meaning a 20 percent loss of income.
“This is going to make life really hard for me,” says Julie, a support worker for almost 20 years.
“I’ve always had to work overtime to make ends meet. Now I find that I’m losing £200 out of this month’s wages, and that management have changed the duty rotas so that I’m not working the weekends – which is odd as I have worked almost every weekend for the last two decades.
“Although this is going to cause me, and many others, severe hardship, it is not going to weaken our resolve.
“Our bosses have decimated the service we provide, and now they are after Karen for speaking out about it. But we are going to keep fighting until we’ve won.”
The union is attempting to raise £60,000 this month in order to provide hardship payments for all 700 strikers. Union branches across the country have already donated £25,000, and more is coming in every day.
Unison members at Salford primary care trust this week sent a £2,000 donation, while Oxford health Unison added a further £1,500. The north west region of the firefighters’ FBU union sent a £750 contribution.
With so many workers losing so much money, it is vital that union branches raise the issue of solidarity donations quickly.
Karen told Socialist Worker that delegations of strikers are going to union meetings across the country to explain the case.
She said, “Wherever we go we find outrage at our bosses and solidarity with the strikers. Today we’ve got strikers visiting union branches in Leeds, Bristol, Glasgow and at the TUC congress in Brighton.”
At the meetings strikers explain the background to their dispute, and how a supposedly caring institution has, for the duration of the dispute, sent 17 of it’s patients over 100 miles away to a private hospital in Darlington, causing misery to them and their families.
“There are patients who are parents who have been unable to see their children,” says Karen.
“The trust laid on a minibus to Darlington for patients’ families last weekend, but it was due to return at 9pm, which is too late for a lot of younger children.
“Can you imagine what it must be like for patients with schizophrenia or manic depression – conditions that are made worse by stress – to be separated from their families and staff they have bonded with? They must be going through hell.”
The growing sense of outrage at the way the trust’s management has behaved has put the strike on regional TV and radio news bulletins, and on the front pages of the local papers.
Local MP Tony Lloyd has also criticised the trust, saying that he was “shocked to learn patients had been sent as far away as Darlington, and that family members were expected to go and visit them there”.
So far management has shown no sign of backing down, and strikers fully expect that further action will be required.
It is a duty upon every trade unionist to ensure that hardship does not become a means by which bosses can weaken the union’s resolve.