Karen Reissmann, Unison activist, North West Health rep, and SWP member, has been suspended from holding office in the union.
This action has apparently been taken because of her prominent opposition to this year’s NHS pay deal, negotiated and championed by Unison health leaders.
Although the deal was an improvement on years of pay freeze, it did not represent a collective victory, with changes in terms and conditions, including increments and unsocial hours pay, and delayed rises for many. The minimal gains negotiated by cap-in-hand officials showed what could have been achieved with an organised campaign of action.
Instead of leading this fight, the union leaderships of Unison, RCN and Unite exploited the complexity of the offer to sell it to their members during ballots. But since implementation in July, many health workers have been furious about the failure of the deal to live up to the picture presented by unions.
The backlash within the RCN led to the head of the union stepping down. The action against Karen Reissman appears to have been taken to isolate opposition within Unison.
The basis of allegations against Karen are likely to relate to her refusal to abide by “collective responsibility” of the Health Group. Karen, who has been critical of the pay deal throughout, was elected unopposed to the national health care service group in June, while the pay ballot was ongoing.
She has every right to state and organise around her opposition. Her suspension represents a serious attack on Unison’s already weak democracy.
The campaign to reinstate Karen, which is growing around a statement, should build rank and file support to expose the ongoing problems with democracy felt at every level of the union.