Manchester Health workers are refusing to allow their bosses to victimise leading Unison union activist Karen Reissmann, and are pledging to continue their strike action until she is returned to her normal duties.
Karen, a psychiatric nurse with more than 25 years experience, has been suspended from her job for the past three months. She is currently facing disciplinary action from her employers for the “crime” of speaking out against cuts and privatisation.
On Wednesday of this week more than 700 workers will begin a three-day strike to coincide with the resumed disciplinary hearings.
This week’s action will bring the total number of strike days taken to 14 – a huge commitment from union members at the trust. The conclusion of the disciplinary hearing is expected on Friday of this week, and it is possible that Karen will be sacked.
Manchester mental health and social care trust admit that Karen is not being penalised for any clinical reason – in fact, on the day she was suspended Karen received a letter confirming a promotion.
Rather, their action is entirely due to her trade union activities.
They say that she brought the trust into disrepute by opposing reorganisation plans called Change in Mind. However workers are adamant that management changes have put patients’ lives in danger, and that Karen was speaking for all of them.
During the course of the strike, trust bosses moved seriously ill psychiatric patients hundreds of miles to private hospitals as far away as Darlington. The distress caused to patients and their families has caused outrage in the local press and among politicians.
The mental health trust – which is ranked as one of the worst in Britain, and is currently £3 million in debt – has also come in for criticism from relatives of William Scott.
As we reported in last week’s Socialist Worker, William’s family claim that he committed suicide after losing his support worker and being left without home visits for three weeks before his death last month.
William lived in the north Manchester area, where
community-based mental health teams had their psychiatric nursing staff slashed from 16 to just four, and support workers cut from seven to four. William’s regular support worker had been moved on as a result of the Change in Mind reorganisation.
If Karen is sacked there must be a howl of anger from the entire trade union movement.
If a trade unionist can be sacked for speaking out against cuts, then no lay activist is safe from victimisation.
Unison should use all means at its disposal to back Karen, including urging MPs and councillors to raise the issue with health secretary Alan Johnson.
There must be a discussion of the issue in every health service trade union branch, and beyond. Manchester strikers must be invited to meetings across the country, and large donations and levies should be raised.
Union members at the trust have already shown their determination and commitment to escalating the fight until management back down. That spirit must now be matched elsewhere.
The strikers were meeting with Unison’s regional leadership to discuss their response as Socialist Worker went to press.
Everyone who believes in a publicly funded and publicly run NHS should get behind this fight.
Rush donations and messages of support to the Manchester community and mental health Unison branch, 70 Manchester Road, M21 9UN