Dunnes young anti-apartheid strikers honoured

0
906

A PLAQUE in honour of those who took part in the Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike was laid on Henry Street in Dublin on Monday, 18th May 2015.

In 1984 eleven young workers from Dunnes Stores went on strike for two years and nine months for their right not to handle goods from Apartheid South Africa.

Their strike eventually led to the Irish government banning goods from South Africa and is credited with helping to end the Apartheid regime.

Nelson Mandela said the Dunnes workers’ stand helped keep him going during his time in prison.

Speaking at the event, John Douglas, Mandate Trade Union General Secretary, said: ‘These workers deserve to be honoured in this way and much, much more.

‘When they took their principled stance in 1984, they weren’t very popular. Their employer, Dunnes Stores, targeted them, but so too did the State.

‘They were ridiculed. Their work colleagues passed their pickets and abused them on a daily basis. As did many members of the public.’

He added: ‘They were only teenagers at the time and it would have been so easy to just walk away, but they stood strong.

‘They stayed outside this shop for more than two and a half years because of an injustice that was happening to people they had never met more than 10,000 kilometres away.

‘That type of solidarity is very rare and this city and this country should be very proud of their inspirational stand.’

Karen Gearon, shop steward during the strike, said the plaque being unveiled on Monday will also remember the workers’ union rep at the time – Brendan Archbold.

Gearon said: ‘When the strike started he told us we wouldn’t be out for more than two weeks.

‘It was probably the only thing he got wrong in the whole dispute. He was so supportive to us, but we never thought it would go on for two years and nine months.

‘There were times on the picket line when we felt so down, that we just wanted to walk away from it.

‘But we would never have gone back in and handled South African produce, we would have lost our jobs before we did that.’

Gearon added that conditions for workers are worse now than in 1984, saying: ‘At least the 1984 workers had permanent jobs – the current workers have zero-hour contracts.’

She said the government had effectively brought about an end to the strike in 1987 through its overall ban on the importation of South African fruit and vegetables.

She said she believed the current government was well placed to ban zero-hour contracts, the main source of the current industrial unrest at Dunnes Stores. ‘They could do it, they should do it,’ she said.

Despite being something of industrial relations and human rights celebrities, Gearon said the strikers did not find work easy after the strike ended in 1987.

She herself was fired by Dunnes Stores a year later and some strikers emigrated.

Roseleen Archbold, wife of the late Brendan Archbold, said: ‘Today’s ceremony and unveiling is an acknowledgement of Brendan’s lifelong contribution to the trade union movement and wider society.

‘He was passionate about the South African struggle and was immensely proud of the strikers and the sacrifices they made.

‘Sadly neither Bren or his hero Mandela can be here to witness this wonderful event, however, this tribute will ensure that their legacy will never be forgotten and we as a family are immensely proud of him and his work.’

Mandate leader Douglas added: ‘It’s fitting that Brendan Archbold, former Mandate official, is also honoured today.

‘Brendan was the heart and soul of the strike and he believed in these workers and stood by them every step of the way.

‘This plaque is a part of Brendan’s legacy, but the larger part of his legacy and the legacy of all of the strikers is the free South Africa that we see today.’

The plaque honours all who took part in the strike including:

Brendan Archbold, Karen Gearon, Mary Manning, Liz Deasy, Michelle Gavin, Vonnie Munroe, Alma Russell, Tommy Davis, Sandra Griffin, Theresa Mooney, Catherine O’Reilly and Brendan Barron.

Mandate Trade Union last Tuesday, 12th May, cautiously welcomed concession of their 3 per cent pay claim for Dunnes Stores workers. However, the union said the pay increase must be implemented with secure, banded hour contracts for it to be meaningful.

A Union statement said: ‘Mandate lodged a claim for a 3 per cent pay increase on April 16th. This morning Dunnes management confirmed concession of the claim at in-store ‘communications meetings’ with staff across the country.

‘Mandate says this shows what workers can achieve when they stick together, but ultimately it does not address the key concerns of their members.’

Gerry Light, Mandate Assistant General Secretary said: ‘This concession of our claim for a 3 per cent pay increase is important, and it shows our campaign is making progress, but workers also need security of hours.

‘What use is a pay increase if management can reduce your hours by two or three in a week, leaving you with less income?

‘Any pay increase must be implemented with banded hour contracts to ensure workers have decent and secure earnings from week to week.

‘At the moment they don’t know if they’ll have the hours and the income to pay their electricity bill or feed their families next month. They can’t get a mortgage or a credit union loan because of their low-hour contacts.’

Mandate members in Dunnes Stores have won a total of 9 per cent in pay increases over the last three years. The union says the pay increases demonstrate the success of the Decency for Dunnes Workers campaign, but the campaign will continue.

Light said: ‘What Dunnes workers are asking for is very reasonable and is afforded to all workers in Dunnes’ major competitors in the retail sector, including Tesco, Penneys, Marks & Spencer and Supervalu. They want secure hours and earnings, job security, fair pay and the right to be represented by their trade union.’

As part of the Decency for Dunnes Workers campaign, Mandate will host a major national demonstration on Saturday, June 6th. Workers and supporters will assemble at Merrion Square in Dublin at 1pm and march to Dunnes Stores Head Office on Georges Street, Dublin 2.

Dunnes Stores employs almost 10,000 workers in 114 stores in the Republic of Ireland.

Meanwhile, the SIPTU trade union has announced it is beginning public service pay negotiations.

In a notice to members published on the union’s website, SIPTU Vice-President Gene Mealy writes: ‘Dear Colleagues, SIPTU representatives are about to enter discussions with public service employers for the restoration of pay for union members who have suffered severe reductions in income over the past number of years.

‘We will also seek the alleviation of the Pension Levy imposed on all members in the public service during this time.

‘Other issues, including the ending of the moratorium on recruitment and the consequent out-sourcing of many public service jobs, will also feature in these discussions.

‘In addition, there are a number of sectoral matters involving our members in health, education, local authorities and state related bodies which need to be addressed to our satisfaction.

‘The negotiations will commence at 2.30 p.m. today (Tuesday 19th May) at Lansdowne House, Dublin 4, under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission and are expected to continue for some weeks.

‘I will keep all union members in the public service informed of developments as the discussions progress.’

Last Thursday, the union announced that a 48-hour work stoppage by SIPTU drivers in Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, scheduled to begin on Friday (15th May), ‘has been deferred following agreement between union representatives, management and Department of Transport officials’.

The agreement was reached at talks facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), which concluded in the early hours of Thursday, 14th May.

The union statement added: ‘The agreement deals effectively with the SIPTU six point agenda for decent work and the maintenance of good public transport services which formed the basis of the union’s engagement in the talks process.

‘The agreement includes;

‘An assurance that no current employee will be required to compulsorily transfer to a new contractor when 10% of bus routes are put out to private tender in 2016.

‘The introduction of a Registered Employment Agreement which will protect bus workers’ terms and conditions of employment.

‘An agreement by the National Transport Authority that the tendering process will be examined on the basis of the “most economically advantageous tender” and that labour costs will not be “the sole criteria”.

‘A statement by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe to the LRC that it is not the “intention of the Oireachtas” to tender the remaining 90% of routes after 2019 when the current contracts come to an end.

‘Under the agreement, private operators will also have to comply with proposed legislation protecting public service provision and the terms and conditions of transport workers or face sanctions, including possible loss of contract.

‘It was also agreed that public transport companies will not have to carry any legacy costs arising from the tendering of routes to private companies.’