100 days ago, when hundreds of Debenhams workers were fired without compensation via generic email the British company did not know the fight it had sparked for itself. The workers voted to defy the suggestions of their trade union, Mandate, and commence a blockade of the remaining stores in the 26 counties. In Cork, the liquidator of the Debenhams Irish operation, KPMG, had already taken est. 40,000 worth of cash the week before and were about to take the rest of the stock. The workers were powerless to stop it; it would have been illegal for them to block trucks from removing the stock. A meeting was called. Realising that if the stock was to get out of stores, there’d be no chance of receiving their agreed redundancy, so they took a vote to to stop the trucks. They demonstrated the power that workers have. These are overwhelmingly women with children and 20+ years in the job, who are risking arrest and an injunction from KPMG, to fight for what they knew was correct and just. They employed democratic centralism, and as a collective, decided it was in their interests as workers to fight for what they deserved, whether it be legal or not.
In Dublin, KPMG have been accused by those on the picket as intentionally misleading striking workers, telling them misinformation and spreading rumours in an attempt to end the blockade.
The actions taken by the Debenhams workers should represent a new era of industrial action in Ireland. For many young people it will be the first national strike in recent memory and it is vital that if we are to protect workers in the face of another recession, that it should be a success. With the introduction of the 1990 Industrial Relations Act, strike action and workers’ rights to collectively bargain was ripped away from them. Neoliberal policies like these were introduced in countries across the globe in the ’80s and ’90s and to this day hamstring workers’ effort to struggle for better wages, conditions and in the case of Debenhams workers, redundancy packages.
It is clear that British corporations and Foreign Direct Investment, like Debenhams, see the Irish working class, as nothing more than machines that work tirelessly to make them profit, only to leave without the intention of keeping their agreements with workers. When we are no longer profitable to them the best decision to their minds is to pack up and leave as if they owe us nothing.
“It is an inspiration to know the working-class of Ireland in their times of conflict. To see that class resolute, erect, defiant, day by day battling with its Nationalist masters, and in starvation and suffering winning its way to victory, which, at the same time as it closes in grappling with the Irish exploiter, it holds itself compromisingly aloof from and hostile to its British rulers and their Irish allies. To know that class is to love it.” – James Connolly
A victory for the Debenhams workers would be a victory for the entire working class of Ireland. It will show the power that lies in collective action.
Over the course of the past few weeks members of the Connolly Youth Movement have been standing in solidarity with Debenhams workers all over the country. Doing our best to get there early in the morning and stay into the evening to show our support for what these workers are doing. We’ll continue to do what we can to support them until their demands are met.