Cantillon: striking reminder of the past for Dunnes

Dunnes again on collision course with workers as Mandate is to ballot members on industrial action

The summer of 1995 is remembered for the sun that came out in early July and stayed until September. It is also remembered for one of the most bitter retail strikes in living memory: at Dunnes Stores.

Twenty years later, on an anniversary that the superstitious would view as inauspicious, Dunnes is again on a collision course with its workers as Mandate is to ballot its members on industrial action .

That 1995 strike, which lasted three weeks, cost Dunnes about £50 million, and, even more importantly it is reckoned, 3 per cent of market share. Back then Associated British Foods ran Quinnsworth and Crazy Prices, the group bought by Tesco in 1997.

The market in 1995 was much more cohesive, as it was more or less a straight fight between ABF and Dunnes – and not a German discounter in sight.


Now times have changed, but not just for Dunnes. Mandate is also operating in a different environment, one that has been changed by the boom and bust years.

In 1995 the strike closed all but one of Dunnes’ outlets and was characterised by public support (Cantillon’s own parents refused to pass the picket at Cornelscourt and went to Quinnsworth despite its being foreign-owned).

The smiling, waving and predominantly female strikers won the battle for the hearts and minds of Irish shoppers. Even the then chairman of the Progressive Democrats, former senator John Dardis, accused the Dunnes board of gross industrial irresponsibility in their approach to industrial relations.

Now Mandate represents 40 per cent of the workers and it will be interesting to see if it can command as much support on the shop floor and amongst customers.

Dunnes, though, by refusing to comment on the issue seems to be taking the same PR road as 1995. The legacy of 1995 continued to rumble on into 1996 with repeated clashes between management and workers. It could be quite a year for both Mandate and Dunnes.