More than 200 health workers, trade unionists, service users and MPs packed into a room in the House of Commons yesterday to show their support for Karen Reissmann, the Manchester psychiatric nurse and leading union member who was sacked for speaking out against cuts and privatisation.
The meeting, which was organised by Karen’s Unison union and chaired by her MP, Tony Lloyd, aimed to raise support for Early Day Motion 443, which calls for Karen’s reinstatement.
Addressing the meeting, Tony Lloyd praised Karen’s two decades of service to the NHS and said that trade unionists must be given greater protection. He said, “There is a real issue of principle at stake here. Health workers have a right and a duty to tell the truth about what happens at work.
“I have a long experience with the Manchester Mental Health Trust. If services there are not being provided properly, we need to know so that we can get improvements made.”
During the meeting health workers from Manchester and from across Britain spoke of their fear that Karen’s sacking is an attempt by management to silence trade unionists and opponents of cuts to services. Many of those attending were Karen’s workmates who had taken several weeks of strike action in an effort to see their colleague returned to work.
Parliamentarians – including Gerald Kaufman, Kelvin Hopkins, Katy Clark, John Leech, and Jeremy Corbyn – heard workers and carers describe the way mental health services are at breaking point in many parts of the country.
Unison vice-president Gerry Gallagher spoke of the tremendous wave of solidarity that the Manchester strikers had received and pledged the continuing support of the union, both for the continuing campaign and for Karen’s employment tribunal that is due to commence in the autumn.
“We must maintain the profile and the pressure in support of Karen,” he said.
From the floor John Mcloughlin from Tower Hamlets Unison talked about the way that emloyment law is stacked against trade unionists. To loud applause he pointed out that even when employment tribunals find against the employers, they cannot force them to reinstate staff who have been wrongly sacked.
Closing the speeches Karen Reissmann said, “This is not a dictatorship. This is Britain under a Labour government in 2008.
“Obviously I want my job back. But I also want protection for all trade unionists.”
The meeting urged everyone to contact their local MPs to ask them to sign the Early Day Motion, and continue to raise Karen’s case wherever possible.