I had the privilege yesterday of attending the Manchester demonstration in support of Karen Reissmann.
Karen is the psychiatric nurse sacked by her employers for speaking out against cuts and privatisation. Her victimisation represents the most vicious possible attack on the rights of trade unionists to organise in the NHS. In a magnificent act of solidarity, 150 of Karen’s colleagues are now taking indefinite strike action to demand her reinstatement.
The demonstration will send a clear message to the Chief Executive and Board of Manchester Mental Health Trust that this dispute isn’t going to go away. The police estimate of numbers yesterday was 1500. Trade union activists from across our movement came together, with representation not just from Unison, but also from unions including Unite, PCS, RMT, and CWU. This was an impressive display of solidarity.
It was good to see Unison throwing its weight behind Karen. Speakers at the rally included Bob Abberley, Unison Assistant General Secretary. Abberley paid tribute to the people taking industrial action, and said they should feel proud of themselves, because they had the values and ethics that the NHS should have. He went on to say, “A trade union is like a family. When you attack one, you attack them all. They’ve attacked one of our family, and we’re going to kick them back good and hard”.
Service users spoke movingly about their respect and support for Karen. Karen’s Mum – a nurse for much of her life – spoke at the rally, and talked about how she and Karen had often disagreed on whether it was right for health workers to strike. She now thought it was right, and knew that what Karen did was for the patients.
Local MP Tony Lloyd spoke robustly in Karen’s defence, supporting the fundamental right to speak out and speak out without fear.
A striker commented that Chief Executive Sheila Foley was now back from her luxury holiday in Dubai, and had tried to sneak into work early without being spotted. Unfortunately she had forgotten that the strikers are used to getting up early!
Karen Reissmann summed up brilliantly. She said, “I’ve been sacked because I’m a trade unionist and a nurse who refuses to accept cuts and refuses to keep her mouth shut. If that’s what I’m accused of, I plead guilty”.
This is an incredibly important dispute. The NHS is under attack on an unprecedented scale. Cuts, redundancies and privatisation are tearing our health service apart. Brown and Johnson have tweaked the presentation, but the Government’s plans for the NHS remain unchanged. It is essential that trade unionists in the NHS have the right to defend the services that every single working class person in the country needs. Karen’s fight is not just an issue for Unison, but for every single trade union activist, and everyone who cares about the future of our health service.
We have to ensure that this fight wins. Rush messages of support and donations to Unison’s Manchester Community and Mental Health Branch, Union Office, Chorlton House, 70 Manchester Road, Manchester M21 9UN (email email@example.com )