The strike to get sacked UNISON steward Karen Reissmann reinstated is continuing. Karen was sacked for speaking out against cuts. A massive show of support on the demonstration in Manchester on 24 November will show the employers and government that we are not prepared to let trade unionists be gagged or disciplined for carrying out the job of representing their members.
Sheila Foley, the Chief Executive of the Manchester NHS Mental Health Trust, has refused to reopen substantive discussions with UNISON over Karen’ s dismissal. Foley was “ambushed” by pickets as she returned to work from her holiday in Dubai, where she had flown as the strike began.
Ben Jackson, a striking occupational therapist and UNISON steward, told Solidarity:
“We thrust a letter into her hand from UNISON asking to meet with her to try and end and resolve this dispute. She eventually came out and made an arrangement to meet with us at 9 o clock yesterday…
“I was asked what the union’ s position was. I offered that… as a gesture of goodwill the Trust should immediately reinstate Karen pending her disciplinary appeal. Then in response UNISON would suspend industrial action…When we met again with her… she said that she wasn’ t able to reinstate Karen pending her appeal, she was determined to stick to the process...
“We said we felt disappointed and angry that the Trust had turned down flat our request. We think it is unacceptable and particularly irresponsible of the Trust to be unable at this stage to have come up with any way of resolving this. We feel the only way is to continue our action. We have a lot of solidarity. We urge people to come along to the demonstration.”
Foley claims to have “contingency plans” to deal with the strike. Ben commented: “There is a certain amount of pressure on other health professionals and mental health trusts to come and do our work as a way of lessening the impact of our dispute. We are receiving a great deal of solidarity from other health professionals and other organisations.”
This includes a threat by UNISON members in the neighbouring Pennine Trust to ballot for action of their own if asked to carry out work done by striking nurses.
Another striker said “We’ ve loads and loads of support from other trade unionists, not just UNISON, but also unions like UNITE, PCS, the Fire Brigades Union. Money is still coming in. There are union branches that have pledged £2,000 a month while we are out on strike.”
The kind of impact the dispute is making could be seen at a 200-strong rally on 14 November. Speakers from the NUJ, CWU, PCS and FBU outlined the steps they are taking in support, ranging from providing office facilities to circulating all branches of their union calling for financial support and solidarity. The extent of the support can already be seen by the fact that £100,000 has already been donated, though most has already been spent on strike pay.
Sadly, the only representative of a political party on the platform was a Lib Dem councillor - the Labour Council’s health spokesperson called for a return to work and branded strikers “irresponsible”.
The main tasks for trade unionists now are:
• to commit labour movement organisations to supporting the strike;
• to keep the money coming in (to UNISON Manchester Community and Mental Health Branch, c/o union office, Chorlton House, 70 Manchester Rd, Manchester M21 9UN) ;
• to support the pickets at North Manchester General Hospital and Chorlton House, 8-11 weekdays;
• to mobilise for the demonstration on Saturday 24th, starting from the Peace Garden, St. Peter’ s Square, Manchester at 1pm.
Petitions and other materials can be found at: reinstate-karen.org/5.html
This is a crucial dispute that could set a precedent for whether trade unionists can stand up to bullying employers who are trying to implement job and service cuts under the Brown’ s banner of “reforming the public services”.