Karen Reissmann, the nurse and leading union activist at the centre of a long-running strike for the right to speak out against cuts and privatisation, has been delivered a vicious blow – not by her former employers, but by those conducting elections in her own union, Unison.
The authorities have decided that Karen should not be allowed to restand for her seat on Unison’s health service group executive, alleging she does not meet their “eligibility criteria”.
They say that this is because Karen was technically “unemployed” in December last year during the nominations – a period when her colleagues were on strike against her sacking.
Karen has worked as a community psychiatric nurse in Manchester for 25 years and is chair of her Unison branch. She is a hugely popular figure within the national union.
The attempt by Manchester mental health and social care trust to sack her led to one of the most important strikes in the health service for many years.
Some 700 workers struck solidly during several days of action last summer, while around 150 community nurses and occupational therapists struck indefinitely in her support in November and December.
Solidarity for the strikers poured in from all over the country, with more than £200,000 raised by fellow trade unionists. A series of packed meetings and demos were attended by leading members of the union.
Now election officials are using the fact that Karen’s sacking was upheld in December – and that during the period of the strike she was “not employed in the health sector” – to bar her from standing for election again.
This interpretation of the rules is perverse. In order to satisfy this criteria, Karen would have had to abandon the strike in her support to seek work elsewhere.
Unison’s rules state that anyone standing for election to the executive must be a full member at the start of the nomination period – which Karen was.
They also allow the branch and national executive to decide to allow any member to retain their membership in particular circumstances – and Karen’s branch has agreed to this.
Karen has a very long record of service in the NHS, broken only by the brief period after her sacking was confirmed.
She is now working as an agency nurse in Manchester, and therefore retains her position as chair of her Unison branch.
It is crucial that all those who supported the Manchester mental health strike now get behind Karen’s demand to be included in the ballot for the health service group election.
Everyone in Unison’s leadership should be lobbied. The union’s national officers and executive council must be flooded with complaints demanding that democracy be allowed to prevail.
Send emails to support Karen to Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis at firstname.lastname@example.org