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From The Socialist newspaper, 14 November 2007

Manchester health workers

Defend the right to speak out!

Over 150 mental health community nurses are continuing indefinite strike action, to win reinstatement of Unison activist Karen Reissman, sacked earlier this month. Meanwhile, trust boss Sheila Foley takes another holiday in Dubai!

Hugh Caffrey and Christian Bunke, Manchester

Karen was sacked for 'bringing the trust into disrepute' by exposing management bullying and incompetence. Bosses also accused her of allowing the press to print information about her case and protesting her innocence.

In January, staff defeated trust attacks on their services. Now management want to cow the union, before implementing 3 million-worth of cuts.

The service is over-stretched already, before the latest strikes several patients attempted suicide, hurt themselves or injured others.

"We do not go on strike lightly," said one striker, "we do not want to put our patients at risk. But the sad truth is, our patients are at risk already because of cuts carried out by management. They want to break the union because we are fighting their cuts, this is why we are striking."

Management are using typical union-busting tactics. They wrote to every nurse, threatening de-registration because nurses 'breached their duty of care' by striking. If implemented, this would effectively mean a ban on industrial action. At their first daily meeting, strikers rejected these lies and intimidation.

Messages of support were received from a host of individuals, including Socialist Party and Unison national executive council member Roger Bannister.

Now patients are being sent to private hospitals, paid for by Manchester Primary Care Trust. Mental Health bosses are digging in for a long dispute and city-wide NHS bosses are backing them. Wider support is vital. Strikers are already gaining huge moral and financial support from health workers around the country.

The 24 November demonstration should be built by Unison north-west into a regional rally. Following this with a day of action at hospitals around the region, including lunch-time protests, strike fund collections and lobbies, would further isolate trust bosses.

A well-organised union campaign will push other trusts into pressurising mental health bosses. Unison regional and national officials are dragging their feet over mobilising members, so strikers will have to continue taking the lead.

Labour MPs and councillors have done nothing to support the dispute. Mental health minister Ivan Lewis refused to discuss the case! New Labour are part of the problem.

Further strike action, allied to wider workers' protests and mass action, can force the politicians' hands and force the trust to reinstate Karen Reissman.

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