South African union hails ‘inspirational’ Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strikers

Three former Dunnes workers presented at press conference in Johannesburg

Mary Manning, Liz Deasy and Karen Gearon at Dublin Airport on Sunday pripor to their departure for South Africa, where they took part in a press conference on Wednesday given by the Cosatu trade union federation. Photograph: Eric Luke

Mary Manning, Liz Deasy and Karen Gearon at Dublin Airport on Sunday pripor to their departure for South Africa, where they took part in a press conference on Wednesday given by the Cosatu trade union federation. Photograph: Eric Luke

Wed, Dec 11, 2013, 18:26

South African union federation Cosatu has hailed the Dunnes Stores strikers as an exceptional example of international solidarity among workers, which it said was increasingly necessary to protect employee rights in the current global economic environment.

At a press conference at the federation’s head office in downtown Johannesburg on Wednesday, Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said the strike undertaken by Mary Manning, Karen Gearon, Liz Deasy and their eight colleagues in 1984 brilliantly embodied the organisation’s core principal: “an injury to one is an injury to all”.

In July of that year the 11 Dunnes workers implemented a union instruction not to handle South African goods, in protest at the apartheid regime and the late Nelson Mandela’s incarceration.

When Ms Manning was suspended from her position for refusing to handle the goods the union put a picket on the store and she and her colleagues went on strike.

The strike lasted two years and nine months and lead to Ireland being the first country to ban goods from South Africa in 1987.

According to one Cosatu member in attendance, the Irish workers’ action inspired similar approaches by some of their members in recent years.

“The South African Transport and Allied Workers Union refused to handle goods coming from Israel because of that country’s policies towards the Palestinian state for a long time,” he said.

Karen Gearon, who spoke on behalf of the three women, said being in South Africa was a wonderful opportunity to once again show solidarity with the people there. She presented the union with a commemorative gift and a letter of condolence on Nelson Mandela’s death from the Irish trade union Mandate.

“On behalf of the trade union movement in Ireland and ourselves, I would like to present you with this commemoration of the centenary of the 1913 Lockout in Ireland, which really started the trade union movement at home, and a letter of condolence,” she said.