Victimised health trade unionist Karen Reissmann received huge support from conference delegates – despite them being told that any mention of her name on conference floor would lead to the microphone being turned off, in case it weakened her legal case against her former employers!
Karen received a standing ovation from delegates after speaking on a motion that called for Unison to seek greater protection for lay representatives who face disciplinary action as a result of their trade union activities.
That evening a packed fringe meeting saw hundreds of delegates come together with strikers and local trade unionists. They pledged continuing support for Karen’s campaign for reinstatement to her job as a psychiatric nurse.
Support for Karen’s case has become a touchstone among union activists well beyond the left – more so after it became clear that the union’s senior leadership had refused to overturn a ruling preventing her from restanding for election to the health executive.
Karen told the fringe meeting, “I believe that if you are attacked, you must fight back – even if you think the odds are against you. When you fight do you discover that you have thousands of allies.
“And by fighting we send all other employers a message that you cannot victimise union reps and get away with it.”
Unison is organising a national lobby of parliament in Karen’s support on Wednesday 7 May. Shop steward Caroline Ridgway explained why it is important for other trade unionists to join it.
“The support we received from around the country sustained our strike,” she said. “The lobby will be a great opportunity to continue the campaign and for us to meet all those who have backed our fight.
“We must use the opportunity to tell our MPs that we demand action to defend trade union activists.”
Andy Dowland, branch secretary of East Somerset Unison, will be joining them. “It is completely unacceptable that a trade unionist can be sacked simply for telling it as it is,” he said.
“There needs to be a change in the law to protect whistleblowers, and employment tribunals must be given the power to order employers to take back workers who have been unfairly dismissed.
“I also strongly disagree with the decision not to allow Karen to restand for the health executive. Karen has proven that she is a great organiser – and this union needs more of them.”
National lobby of parliament supported by Unison nationally, Wednesday 7 May. For more information go to » www.reinstate-karen.org