Irish police’s ‘mobilisation’ against picketers reminds us why we must #KillTheBill

Irish police drag away a protesters and Debenhams store logo
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In April 2020, Debenhams announced it was furloughing its UK staff. At the time it said it wouldn’t reopen its Irish stores because coronavirus (Covid-19) had affected the company’s operations. This resulted in around 1,000 Irish job losses. So since 26 May 2020, Debenhams’ Irish staff have picketed its stores and engaged in industrial action:

to prevent the removal of any remaining company assets from the closed stores and to pressurise the Debenhams parent company in the UK to pay a fair union negotiated redundancy package to their loyal staff in Ireland.

And almost one year on, its Irish staff are still campaigning for “a redundancy deal from Debenhams” and:

decent treatment from a company we have served for years.

However, on 22 April, gardaí (southern Irish police – An Garda Síochána) launched a “major mobilisation” against peaceful protesters at Debenhams Henry Street branch in Dublin city centre. The gardaí were there to ensure corporate giant KPMG could retrieve Debenhams stock. And their behaviour should remind people in the UK why we absolutely must Kill the Bill.

Ongoing industrial action

Action against Debenhams’ decision has been ongoing since April 2020:

Read on...

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Police harassment

But involvement from gardaí has also been ongoing since then. Since workers started protesting outside Debenhams stores, their protests been under surveillance. On one occasion, gardaí claimed protesters were “in potential breach” of coronavirus regulations.

On another occasion they threatened protesters with arrest:

Police brutality

And it gets worse. As the strike continued, gardaí used force to remove strikers from the picket:

Then on 22 April, they began a “major mobilisation” to break the picket. This was to allow liquidator KPMG to remove stock from its Irish stores after protesters barricaded themselves inside:

Using its public order unit, gardaí cut off picketers from their supporters at the front entrance:

Moreover, gardaí used angle grinders to force the picketers’ gate open. Picketers had barricaded themselves behind this gate to prevent KPMG removing stock from this Dublin city centre store. They said when gardaí arrived they kept supporters of the picketers on the outside:

Other gardaí entered from behind the picketers’ position, thereby surrounding them and completely cutting them off from supporters:

Protesters told The Canary that gardaí presence was like a scene from a “terrorist attack”. But this was “a peaceful protest”.

The Canary contacted An Garda Síochána for comment. A spokesperson responded:

An Garda Síochána attended premises in Dublin City Centre and Manor West, Tralee on 22nd and 23rd April, as required [on] the execution of a High Court Order. An Garda Síochána has no further comment at this time.

Capitalist greed

In 2006, Debenhams was valued at £2bn. And in 2018 it made a profit of £160m. Then, following the pandemic, it sold its brand and website to Boohoo for £55m. However, a training fund of just €3m is all that’s currently on the table for striking workers. The workers have described this fund as an ‘insult’.

One of the picketers, Suzanne Sherry, told The Canary she’d worked for Debenhams since 1996. She said on 9 April 2020 she:

received a generic email saying my job was gone and Debenhams was insolvent

Sherry added:

all of our belongings are still in our lockers, we have never been given permission to go back in and retrieve them

The Canary also contacted KPMG and Debenhams for comment, but neither responded by the time of publication.

Warning for the UK

When Boohoo took over Debenhams in the UK in January, Irish protesters sent a warning message to their UK colleagues. Shop steward Valerie Conlon said UK workers could receive the same treatment from Debenhams as Irish workers. Conlon added:

They’re not doing Debenhams staff any favours in England because they’re closing all the shops

The scenes in Dublin on 22 April should send another warning to UK workers. Because if the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill makes its way through parliament, then peaceful protest is at stake. That could include the right of workers to strike and picket.

While these scenes took place in a separate country, they aren’t dissimilar to what’s happening in the UK. And they should act as a wake-up call to everybody.

Hope for striking workers

As a result of this strike, the socialist party People Before Profit (PBP) is bringing a new bill before Dáil Éireann (the Irish parliament). According to PBP, this Bill aims to:

put workers right to the front of the queue for payouts from a liquidation pot.

And more importantly, Sherry told The Canary that the worker protest at the Henry Street branch will continue. The protection of protest is paramount.

Featured image via Twitter – Carah & Flickr – Matt Brown 

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