Campaigners across Britain have vowed to keep up the fight for Karen Reissmann, the leading health trade unionist from Manchester who has been victimised for fighting cuts and privatisation.
Karen’s appeal against her sacking started on Monday and trust bosses were expected to announce their verdict by the end of this week.
Wednesday was set to see scores of protests in her support outside hospitals, and other workplaces – especially in the north west of England, where Karen’s case has a particularly high profile.
Around 150 health workers have kept up a indefinite strike since Karen was sacked at the beginning of November.
According to Ameen Hadi, a shop steward at Salford council, local government workers were keen to join the national day of action in support of Karen, called by her Unison union.
“We had a group of strikers come to our union branch annual general meeting recently – and they went down a storm,” he told Socialist Worker.
“People can really see the connections between the nurses’ struggle and our own ones. We’re both fighting for public services.
“Now we’re regular visitors to the Manchester picket lines, and we’re planning a protest in their support outside the nearby Hope hospital.”
Sam O’Brien, a shop steward in Rochdale, echoed Ameen. “The Manchester strike is on everyone’s radar in the north west,” he told Socialist Worker.
“We had a delegation to Karen’s demo in Manchester recently, and now we are planning a protest outside our town hall for all public sector workers in the area.
“The feeling here is that the national union must now raise the Manchester nurses’ strike will all its sponsored MPs.”
Karen’s Manchester community and mental health branch of Unison has the same hopes, and recently passed a motion that was to be discussed at the union’s national executive as Socialist Worker went to press.
The motion calls on the national union to:
- Take up Karen’s case with the department of health.
- Ask the union’s Labour Link organisation to raise the case with every Unison-sponsored MP, and get them to raise the issue personally with health secretary Alan Johnson.
- Call a lobby of parliament over the issue.
- Consider not progressing talks between the union and the government until Karen’s case is satisfactorily resolved.
Locally, the union has done all that is in its power to fight for Karen’s reinstatement. The national union must now show its teeth to the government if this attack on union rights is to be fought off.
“I’ve always believed that a union is only as strong as the people in it,” says Bev, one of the Manchester strikers.
“And we’ve shown how strong we are by being on strike all month. But now I want to see our national leadership showing how strong they can be too.
“If an NHS trust can get away with sacking a trade unionist for speaking out, it will have implications for union reps everywhere.
“Every MP who is funded by our subs must raise our strike with the government. All our links with Labour are worth nothing if we can’t make them work for us in a time of crisis.”
Bosses at the Manchester mental health trust assumed that getting rid of Karen would weaken the union and make it easier to implement their planned cuts and “reorganisations”. But strikers know the opposite is true.
“We’re stronger now then ever,” says Bev. “The strike has meant people who never even knew each other before are now friends. We’re all activists now – and our stewards are so confident that they stand ten feet tall.
“Management haven’t got rid of Karen – they’ve created dozens of new Karens.”
The Manchester striker’s name has been changed to protect her identity.