On Tuesday afternoon, 13/10/20, the High Court of the 26 County State ruled to invoke an injunction against Debenhams workers who have been engaging in a picket at numerous sites around the State since April. In effect, this injunction is to prevent workers, who are organised under the Mandate Trade Union, from blockading trucks from removing stock from the idle Debenhams stores, as the workers have been doing successfully since their strike action began. In essence, this is the State putting corporate greed over the rights of workers. But tragically, this is just business as usual.
On the 9th of April, while 1,500 Debenhams workers were out of work due to the COVID-19 Lockdown, Debenhams Ireland informed staff that the company had entered administration and that operations in the 26 counties would cease leaving these workers without employment. To add insult to injury the workers were also informed that they would not receive their previously agreed redundancy entitlements (4 weeks pay per year worked) as the company did not have the assets to cover the cost. This agreed pay deal was to be split between the government and the company, but instead KPMG (administrators for the company) have shamelessly offered a paltry one day salary per person per year! At the same time, however, KPMG has transferred assets – with the assistance of the Gardaí – out of stores and over the border out of the jurisdiction of the State. So while refusing to pay the workers what they were owed, the company retained enough assets to ensure the shareholders would get their cut.
Since the workers began their picket they have on a number of ocassions prevented stock from being removed from the stores, thus preventing any further transferring of assets out of the State. In a great show of public support there have also been a number of national days of action held outside flagship stores where thousands have come out to show their support to the workers. But all along, the workers have maintained their presence on the picket, with a conviction in their cause and a readiness to do what is needed. From the very beginning the workers have been an inspiring force, reminiscent of the Vita Cortex workers struggle a decade ago, and it is extremely encouraging to see that they have vowed to disobey the injunction and continue their just fight for what they are owed. And all workers should take note.
Under the advancing neo-liberal agenda of the ruling capitalist class workers rights are an unwelcome burden and the workers themselves highly dispensable. Profit is King, and anything that gets in it’s way is viewed as a malignant force which needs to be excised without sympathy. They might come wearing a suit and with such an expert command of language that they could convince a bald man that he needs to buy a comb, but the very nature of the capitalist is to bleed the earth of all it’s resources – whether human, material or natural – and to forcibly remove any obstacle in their way. For this very reason the Industrial Relations Act 1990, which sets the goalposts for any industrial action in the 26 county state, makes it illegal for any Trade Union to call a strike action without ICTU approval. It also outlaws solidarity strikes and puts in place the legislation which gives the High Court the powers to invoke injunctions on Trade Unionists. It is essentially a tool to undermine the Trade Unions, undervalue the worker, undo the rights hard won by previous generations and ensure the capitalists a larger place at the table and a bigger piece of the pie.
With this in mind it is necessary for all workers to realise that the Debenhams workers struggle does not exist in a vacuum, and that all workers struggles are intimately connected. An injury to one is an injury to all, and this is the absolute and immovable truth. If workers who are members of a Trade Union and at the centre of a highly publicised strike action can be thrown to the wolves by the State, then it sets a precedent for the next workers to face a similar issue. This is why Trade Unions are not only necessary, but essential. Many Trade Unions may be staffed by careerists and “yes men”, but the power of a Trade Union and worker unity should never be underestimated. For there is no greater force than a united working class. Our enemies are united against us in their aims to bleed every penny they can while rendering us as soulless worker drones in the process. It is time we view our interests as workers – which are essentially our class interests – in the same light.
James Connolly said that “governments in capitalist society are but committees of the rich to manage the affairs of the capitalist class”, and the recent developments in the Debenhams workers case only further prove the accuracy of his assessment. Politicians and careerists will always present themselves as having the interests of the “greater good” as their priority, but we need to ask ourselves what exactly it is they view as the “greater good”? Is it simply a functioning and profitable economy which ultimately only truly benefits a small minority, or a wholly healthy society that utilises its economic and material wealth for the benefit of all? A quick look over the policies and practices of the ruling parties casts no shadow of doubt on this question. Profit is King, and the workers are but it’s slaves.
Which side are you on?