Dunnes strikers to address South African trade union press conference
Mary Manning, Karen Gearon and Liz Deasy invited to talk about their part in fight against apartheid
Mary Manning, Liz Deasy and Karen Gearon, three of the Dunnes Stores workers who went on strike for almost three years over the importing of goods from apartheid South Africa, at Dublin Airport on Sunday before their departure to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral. Photograph: Eric Luke
South African union federation Cosatu has invited the former Dunnes Stores strikers to address an international press conference on Nelson Mandela to highlight the role they played in bringing an end to apartheid.
Dubliners Mary Manning, Karen Gearon and Liz Deasy, whose almost three-year strike in the 1980s moved the government to ban South African produce from Ireland, arrived in Johannesburg yesterday morning ahead of Mr Mandela’s memorial service and funeral.
Their costs have been covered by the Mandate trade union and the Government.
Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said when they heard the Dunnes Stores strikers were travelling to South Africa to pay their respects to the late president, he felt he could not pass up the opportunity to invite them to the federation’s head office.
“It’s an unbelievable piece of luck to have the leaders of such a legendary strike action here in South Africa this week . . . We would dearly like to arrange talks between all 11 of the workers and our union members about the importance of solidarity and how it can bring about change, when the remaining members of the group arrive on Thursday,” he said.
The Dunnes Stores workers were members of Idatu (the Irish Distributive & Administrative Union) in July 1984 when they implemented a union instruction not to handle South African goods, in protest at the apartheid regime.
Checkout operator Mary Manning was the first to refuse to handle goods, and as a result she was suspended from her job.
The union put a picket on the store and 10 of her colleagues went on strike. The strike lasted two years and nine months and led to Ireland being the first country to ban goods from South Africa in 1987.
Yesterday, Ms Deasy said they were thrilled to have been given the opportunity to meet with Cosatu, as the union had given them a lot of support during the strike.
“It was the trade union movement in South Africa that had called for the international boycott and we showed solidarity with them. When they heard what happened there was a lot of correspondence between them and our union. So to finally get to meet them will be fantastic,” she said.
Last night the three women had dinner with President Michael D Higgins and the Irish Ambassador to South Africa, Brendan McMahon, at his Pretoria residence.
Ms Manning will accompany Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore to the memorial service for Mr Mandela at the FNB stadium near Soweto, where she will take her place beside at least 70 world leaders.
Ms Gearon and Ms Deasy will accompany Mr McMahon to the event as VIPs.“I’m still in shock,” said Ms Deasy, “I don’t think it has hit fully yet that we are actually part of all this.”