HEALTH Care workers across South West Surrey have paid a fitting farewell to a retiring union leader whose 30 year tenure as UNISON branch secretary is believed to be unrivalled in British trade union history.
Carles Martinez has been branch secretary of local health care workers UNISON since 1977 as well as its predecessor known as the COHSE, Confederation of Health Service Employees, a landmark which prompted a special thank you from the Prime Minister.
Martinez was presented with a framed letter from the Prime Minister at the gathering at the Mandolay Hotel in Guildford on Wednesday 14th November 2007 which recorded his personnel thanks and that of Labour movement for his efforts on behalf of members and the NHS. The event was also an opportunity to receive plaudits from a number of his colleagues and associates who have worked with him over the years.
“Under Carles Martinez’s leadership the union had became a formidable force for good, a key partner in delivering first class health care services locally , and a branch that delivered for its members,” said UNISON regional officer Michael Walker. “The membership of this union and the community we serve owe him a great debt of gratitude.
“He was never afraid to speak his mind on behalf of union members and challenge the prevailing attitudes, championing equality and opportunity for all staff.”
Martinez was born in 1939 in Barcelona and was educated at the Eccole Francaise. He fled Franco's dictatorship for London in December 1963. He contracted TB and was sent to King George V Sanatorium, Hydestile, where he later secured a job in 1964, later moving to Guildford’s Royal Surrey County Hospital took over the branch secretaryship from Les Bennett who had in turn been branch secretary since 1948.
The previous Branch Secretary was Harry Stock a Bath Attendant at St Thomas's. Milford, who was the founding Branch Secretary of the union then known as the Hospital & Welfare Services Union from it's inauguration with seven members in July 1943 until Les Bennett took over in 1948. When Harry Stock returned to London. Don Donnellon a pioneering theatre technician was also key in establishing the union at St Thomas's Hospital, Milford
This unique partnership of two branch sectaries since the establishment of the NHS is believed to be unrivalled in British trade union history.
The Surrey union had been originally established by staff from St Thomas’s hospital, London when they were evacuated after the German Luftwaffe had destroyed much of St Thomas’s in September 1940.
One of Les Bennetts first acts as branch secretary was to highlight the plight of student nurses at Hydestile who in 1948 were forced after long shifts to pick onions at 1s 5d an hour for a local market gardener because there pay was insufficient to pay train fare home to London .
Carles Martinez was initially elected Branch Chairman in March 1968 and in 1977 Branch Secretary. During the 30 years, Martinez has built it up to be one of the largest branches with 3,000 members who work in the “acute” sector (over 75% of whom were nursing staff) and has never faced a challenge for his position as secretary.
He has worked and campaigned with politicians of all political persuasions throughout the years to ensure that his members and the interest of local NHS were best realised, illustrated most recently during the campaign to save the Royal Surrey County Hospital.
“Carles Martinez had built a reputation not only locally but nationally for the wholehearted commitment he had shown to his members interests and to the that of our National Health Service,” said UNISON assistant general secretary, Bob Abberley. “The branch had been very fortunate to have a man of such high calibre at the helm for the last 30 years and he will be greatly missed by all who know him, but we can assure him that the foundations he has laid will continue to be built upon.
At the end of the evening Mr Martinez thanked his many friends, particularly Les Bennett and thanked his wife Tatjanana, until recently a senior sister at RSCH for her continued support.
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