More than 200 health workers, trade unionists, service users and MPs packed into a room in the House of Commons last week 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.
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.”
During the meeting health workers from Manchester and 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 reinstated.
They reported that following their return to work management had initially backed away from confrontation with the union, but that recently they had initiated a series of attacks on services, pay and conditions.
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 national union, both for the ongoing 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.
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.