Installation Rua Red Arts Center Tallaght Dublin

Stand up fight back is the chant used by strikers on the Debenhams picket lines across the country.

In April 2020 without consultation with workers or their representatives, Debenhams went into liquidation with the loss of over 1,000 jobs in Ireland, despite the Irish stores trading profitably.

Workers in all 11 Irish stores many of whom had given years of loyal service received an email to say their job was gone and there would be no redundancy package from Debenhams available to them. Stock in the stores is believed to be worth around €25 million, and despite the company saying they are in liquidation they continue to trade successfully online in Ireland. Workers are demanding that money from this stock and from online sales should go to the cost of their redundancy. The law as it currently stands in Ireland gives preferential treatment to business creditors and The Revenue Commissioners ahead of workers in these liquidation situations.

Unwilling to accept such treatment the Debenhams workers mainly women, many of them mothers and grandmothers bravely took to the streets to fight back during the Covid-19 lockdown, giving Ireland, its first socially distanced protest. Since April 2020 the Debenham workers have heroically maintained a 24hr picket, in all kinds of weather and during the most difficult of situations making it the longest running official industrial action this State has ever seen.

The strikers have utilised traditional fighting tactics of protests including occupations, 24hr pickets and political pressure as well as newer forms of protest such as e-rallies to highlight their cause and to block any attempt by liquidators KPMG to remove stock from the stores.

This is not the first time Irish workers have been in this situation. In 2015 workers in Cleary’s Department store in Dublin went into liquidation owing wages and redundancy to workers. Due to political pressure at the time the government were forced to commission the Duffy Cahill report. The report published in 2016 made a series of recommendations to protect workers during the liquidation process. Four years on none of the recommendations have been implemented and no laws have been changed to ensure protection of workers.

The implementation of the Duffy Cahill report has been a key demand of the Debenhams workers as they also argue that Debenhams fight is a fight on behalf of all workers. In the latest round of challenges to the strike KPMG liquidators have sought an injunction to prevent workers protecting stock being removed from stores. This means that workers are now facing criminalisation for their strike action.

This represents the biggest challenge to the Industrial Relations Act since social partnership. The outcome of this struggle will have major impact for working class people across Ireland as the country faces into another recession. The workers struggle has been an inspiration to all those who dream, fight and struggle for a more fair and just society. Stand up fight back!