Sunday, 25 November 2007

Karen Reissmann, Psychiatric nurse sacked for speaking out

Below is the report of yesterday's Manchester demonstration in defence
of sacked UNISON steward, Karen Reissmann. The issues there are huge
with these loathsome employers even threatening to report striking
nurses to their professional registration body, the NMC.

It was great to see Lillian Macer, Chair of UNISON's Health Group Exec
speaking out with UNISON assistant general secretary Bob Abberley.

UNISON's Health Service Group exec is calling for branches to make the
5th of December a day of solidarity with Karen - with stewards and
activists encouraged to organise a lunchtime protest (perhaps at the
hospital gates) with staff wearing gags and inviting the local media
along to protest the attempt to silence a union rep for spaking our
against service cuts.

Please have a look at these pictures and the report below.

Regards, Mark Ladbrooke
Health Group Exec member SE Region

Reissman: What was said at the rally
nicola dowling

HERE'S a selection the messages of support sent to Karen Reissmann as
hundreds of people marched in support of the sacked mental health

Star of Shameless Chris Bisson read this letter of support from the
show's writer Paul Abbott who could not attend the rally because he
was in America on business.

He said: "Dear Karen,

So sorry I can't be with you at the rally in your support, but sadly,
I'm committed to appointments abroad.

"I hope you already know how much admiration I have for you and your
colleagues now striking in defence of your outspoken feelings about
the alarming state of mental health services in Manchester, which for
years we all know, were woefully under-funded in the first place -
never mind the sheer madness of cutbacks.

"They could wave as many spreadsheets as they want to justify the
economics of this but what's betting the number-crunching won't
include the damage to Britain's economy from the needless suffering of
undiagnosed mental illness in our citizens, which, if treated earlier,
and professionally can prevent the pointlessly heartbreaking
destruction of people and their families.

"Prescription chargers for anti depressants alone cost £36 million a
year. Add to this the national loss of work hours, and the vast
expenditure on long-term disability from welfare support and tell me
there's a single atom of sense in their arithmetic to justify the
economics of this. There isn't. Never could be.

"At 15 I was sectioned for my own protection following a suicide
attempt. Back then, I experienced the privilege of help and support
from nurses among other mental health practitioners to see me
patiently through that crisis. Without them, I wouldn't be alive

"The thought of ever going back to that jet-black underworld still
haunts me constantly. But if I had no choice, surely in all decency,
I'd deserve more specialist nurses like Karen Reissmann to help me
break my fall, not half the number doing their work on a fraction of
the funding spent 30 years ago.

"We pay the health trust salaries, we, the shareholders. In effect we
subsidise their families. Can we get a pledge that Sheila Foley and
her teams at Manchester Mental Health Trust will be held accountable
for the catastrophic consequences of their negligence?

"Using crass free-market economics on public funded mental health
services, is honestly far more deluded than I was the day I was
sectioned. If Manchester Mental Health Trust aren't up to basic adding
and subtracting, it's time we had their jobs not Karen Reissmann's."

Karen's mum Hella Reissmann, 80, was in tears during the speeches
after the rally, saying she was overcome with pride for her daughter
and the strength of support for her.

The retired general nurse said: "I came from York and was nervous
about speaking because I had a stroke recently, but I just had to be
here. I am very emotional about all of this. She did it for the
patients. On the same day my daughter got the discipline letter she
got another one offering her promotion, they were signed by the same
person. It is unbelievable."

Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd said: "Karen is my constituent, but I
am not here in that capacity. I am here because there is a basic trade
union principle here. That principle is the right for an active trade
union to speak out about what's happening in a public service that we,
everyone, of us owns and is accountable to every one of us here
because it is the service which in the end we all depend on.

"As an MP, I have dealt with some of Karen's patients over the years
and I know how much people value and need the service of the Mental
Health Trust.

He referred to the fact that Ms Reissmann was offered promotion on the
same day she was sacked. He said he hoped Karen's appeal would be
successful so that she and her colleagues could go back to work.

Manchester Lawyer Robert Lizar said: "I, in my work, advise people
about their rights under the Mental Health Act. I come into contact
with people in the hospitals covered by Karen. What's clear is that
Karen was completely right to speak out about those services and their

"The journalistic cliché is that this is a Cinderella service which
employs people who are dedicated and hardworking, but is grossly

"Karen is not a Cinderella though because she just didn't sit there
passively waiting for the Fairy God Mother or Prince Charming to bring
some funding, she spoke out in a way we would all want to hear.

"Her reward for speaking out was that she was sacked. That, to me, is
absolutely outrageous. As a lawyer looking at the charges brought
against her, they look like something from Alice in Wonderland or
George Orwell.

"I wasn't aware that it was an offence to speak out, to tell people
she had been suspended and assert that she was innocent. She was
charged with asserting her innocence! I can't take that in.

"The charges centre on her going to the press. There are major
organisations which do include it in their contract that employees
don't talk to the press and disclose material that could be damaging
to the company such as Coca-Cola and Astra Zeneca, organisations that
have major secrets they have to protect. What's the secret this
hospital trust are trying to protect here?

"Their secret is that they are making cuts not expanding a service
that desperately needs more funding. There can never be any
justification for that kind of approach. There can be no excuse
because the trust are managing this service on our behalf, this is a
public service. We need to hear this debate."

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Respect goes West: Mikes Letter from America #1

Before I left for the USA, I was repeatedly asked ‘how are you going to cope as a socialist in America?’ The assumption is that the USA is irredeemably reactionary, and that being a socialist will mark me out as an un-American alien. Well, there is some truth in the idea that the USA is more right-wing than Europe; this is a country, after all, in which there isn’t even a Labo(u)r party, and where ‘liberal’ means left-wing.

My early experiences in mid-Michigan seemed to confirm this. The first political posters I saw at the university where my wife works were placed there by the Right. One even said ‘Happy Columbus Day’ below a picture of a heroic Columbus surrounded my kneeling subservient ‘Indians’. Since then, there have been a number of such incidents culminating in the hanging of nooses (a racist act designed to invoke the memory of lynchings). Fortunately, these acts are being resisted by both faculty and students.

While this is obviously hardly a left-wing hotbed, the city has its share of progressive groups, such as Amnesty International and the Sierra Club (an environmentalist group with slightly dodgy politics on population control – we are talking RELATIVELY progressive here), and a Green Party city commissioner (equivalent of a councillor in the UK). Not too bad for an area which is colored red (i.e. Republican) on the electoral map.

So much for the local scene – what about national politics? I will write some other time about the presidential election campaign – it has another 12 months to run, so I’ll have plenty of opportunity to do so. What I suspect will interest Respect supporters more is the small upsurge of labor (as they spell it here) militancy. I am not referring here to the auto workers strikes, which were something of a charade, called by the union bureaucracy to distract from the fact that they are busy negotiating away their members’ pensions. They were dubbed by some ‘Hollywood strikes’ – that is, just for show. I am referring to the real Hollywood strike, of TV and film script writers. They have been out now for over two weeks, striking against the refusal of studio bosses to give them a share of the sales of DVDs and internet downloads. This may seem a rather obscure cause, but it is basically another example of bosses trying to screw some extra surplus value from the workers. The strike began to bite immediately, with talk shows being replaced by re-runs. The studios fear that drama series will be affected next, which could result in more ‘reality’ TV shows, which require no scriptwriters. Now, if that doesn’t make the public beat on the doors of the studio bosses demanding they concede, I don’t know what will.
No sooner were the writers out on the picket lines in California than another group of entertainment workers followed them on the opposite coast. This time it was the Broadway stage hands. They have been working without a contract since July, and came out when management tried to impose new work rules, threatening to lock out the stage hands if they did not accept. Readers will be sad to hear that the strike failed to stop Duran Duran’s appearance in New York – they relocated to a theatre not affected by the action.

Now, these may not sound like major strikes compared to the action of the French rail workers, but it would be wrong to dismiss them as trivial. Firstly, there is great symbolic importance in two of the most American of institutions – Hollywood and Broadway – being shut down by strike action. But more importantly, entertainment is an important plank of the ‘new economy’ in the US. It has been estimated that the New York economy loses up to $2 million every day the theatres are on strike. This is not small change for US capitalism. More broadly, the service sector is seeing the highest increase in levels of unionisation. For example, here in central Michigan, the Teamsters union is attempting to organise casino workers.

Moves like this are significant, as casinos are seen by some state politicians as a way of replacing the declining auto industry, much as Tony Blair promoted ‘Super Casinos’ in Britain.

So, far from being ‘unAmerican’, militant trade unionism is as American as apple pie!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

No platform for fascists in Oxford Union Rally Tues 20th Nov

Rally Tuesday 20 November, 7.30pm, Oxford Town Hall

Speakers: Martin McCluskey, Oxford University Student Union President ;

Ruqayyah Collector, NUS Black Students Officer;

Scott Cuthbertson, NUS LGBT Officer;

Megan Dobney, TUC South East Region Sectretary;

Lee Jasper, National Assembly Against Racsim Secretary;

Weyman Bennett, Unite Against Fascism;

Nigel Carter, Oxford District Trades Council.

Demonstration Monday 26 November, 7pm outside Oxford Union

Next Oxford Respect Branch meeting Thurs 29th Nov

Please note the next Oxford Respect branch meeting will be on Thursday 29th November, 7.3o in Oxford Town Hall

Thursday, 8 November 2007

No platform for fascists in Oxford Union

Demonstration Monday 26 November, 7pmVenue tbc

Oxford Unite Against Fascism, Oxford University Student Union, Oxford Respect, Oxford University Labour Club, Oxford and District Trades Council, Oxfordshire UNISON Health and Unite Against Fascism have called a peaceful demonstration in the event of fascist BNP leader Nick Griffin and Holocaust denier David Irving speaking in the free speech forum on Monday 26 November at Oxford Union.We are still campaigning for the Oxford Union to rescind the invitations to Griffin and Irving.

There is a world of difference between defending free speech and choosing to provide a platform for fascists. Far from being the champions of free speech history shows that when fascists rise to power they destroy freedom of speech, democracy, human rights and they have murdered millions of people and attempted to annihilate entire communities.Wherever fascists have a presence, violence and intimidation increases. Fascism threatens the safety of Black, Jewish, Muslim, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of Oxford including students and academics. Wherever fascists are active or have a presence, racist attacks and other hate crimes increase.