Nearly 700 UNISON members in Manchester Community and Mental Health branch went on strike yesterday in support of their colleague Karen Reissman, suspended from work since June.
About half the strikers were on lively picket lines at the four main sites - at Wythenshawe Hospital, Chorlton House (Trust HQ), Manchester Royal Infirmary and North Manchester General Hospital.
Management had refused to discuss ‘life and limb’ cover, and claimed that they could not get enough staff to cover three wards in North Manchester - so sent some patients home and bussed others to private hospitals in Darlington and Bury, at vast expense and disruption to the patients.
The strikers are solid in their support of Karen Reissmann, who has now been suspended since mid June, on charges which are entirely to do with her trade union role and nothing to do with her professional nursing role. Karen has helped organise several successful strikes against cuts to services at the trust in recent months and spoken out against transferring services provided by the trust to the voluntary and private sectors. We all know that the attack on Karen is an attack on all our trade union rights and the right to speak out against cuts and privatisation.
The trust’s senior managers are now demanding that all in-patient staff are “exempted” from the strike and are refusing to use managers to cover any roles affected by the action. Instead of negotiating with the union over emergency cover, the trust is temporarily transferring three psychiatric wards from the north Manchester hospital to private hospitals in Manchester, Bury and Darlington.
The move will affect over 60 patients and the cost is estimated to be several hundred pounds per bed per day. The move also means that patients who have been sectioned will have to be re-sectioned for their move to Bury and then sectioned again for their return to North Manchester leading to a huge waste of resources.
There was a further setback for trust managers this week as a small group of non-union ward-based staff, expected by management to not take part in the industrial action, decided to join the union and stay away from work.
The strike continues this week on Thursday and Friday, and will continue the week after next if management continues to refuse to reinstate Karen. There is a demonstration in Manchester on Sunday 9th September, 1pm, Peace Gardens, St Peters Square. Please come and bring your banners.
Strikers will be touring the country on Thursday 30th August after the morning pickets to explain the background to the strike and to collect donations. On Friday 31st August there will be a lunchtime rally in the centre of Manchester.
Unison has been asking for donations in order to pay the strikers a minimum £15 per day. Send your cheques to: UNISON Manchester Community and Mental Health, c/o Trade Union Office, Chorlton House, 70 Manchester Road, Manchester M21 9UN.