Monday 19 November 2007

Victimisation - can be beaten

Regular readers of this blog will know that I've been heavily involved in the campaign to reinstate Karen Reissmann, a local nurse and UNISON activist who has been sacked for speaking out in defence of the NHS. Tomorrow morning I'll be joining their striking members who are protesting at the trust HQ as their boss, Sheila Foley, returns from yet another holiday in Dubai.

Foley has had a nice break while her staff are on strike and the service she is supposed to be responsible for lies in tatters. She is looking increasingly isolated now. Manchester city council has an important role in the dispute, as it funds the trust and has two councillors on the trust board. Liberal and Green councillors have already spoken out against Karen's sacking and there are increasing rumbles from within the Labour Party at the relative silence from Labour benches. Saturday's demonstration will be vital to step up the pressure another notch.

Sadly Karen is far from the only activist facing victimisation. Today's @ctivist newsletter reports a 95% indicative vote to strike by UNITE members at CB&I’s Isle of Grain gas storage site in North Kent, in response to the dismissal of steel worker John McEwan a few days after he was elected as a shop steward.

It seems to me that as working people slowly regain confidence to resist the attacks we face, employers are seeing picking off key activists as an attractive option.

It is very encouraging that union members in both these cases understand that if they let an employer pick off the steward, nobody will be safe. Disgracefully, UK employment law provides no way to get your job back if you are unfairly sacked, only to get compensation. Even if the money fairly compensated the victimised individual (and it rarely does), every other employee still loses out when union organisation is weakened. Only campaigning (including industrial action) has a realistic chance of winning reinstatement.

When, as in both these cases, union members have the courage to defend their stewards, they deserve the full support of the trade union movement.

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