Union official and organising force behind Dunnes Stores strike

Brendan Archbold: February 17th, 1947 - November 27th, 2014

Brendan Archbold regarded the Dunnes Stores strike against apartheid as “the finest example of trade union solidarity ever”. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Brendan Archbold regarded the Dunnes Stores strike against apartheid as “the finest example of trade union solidarity ever”. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Brendan Archbold, a trade union activist and campaigner for social and human rights who has died aged 67, will probably be best remembered for his role in the Dunnes Stores strike in the 1980s.

John Douglas, general secretary of Mandate (of which Archbold was a long-time official) and president of the Ictu, said: “Brendan was a formidable trade union official and an exceptionally intelligent individual who brought huge energy to the trade union movement. He will be very sadly missed by all, but his legacy . . . will live on and we can look back in admiration at all of his achievements.”

Brendan Archbold was one of four children born to George and Bertha Archbold in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, but his family moved to Earlsfort Terrace in Dublin when he was aged one year.

His father was in the Royal Air Force and his mother was a homemaker. He attended Scoil Bhríde on Earlsfort Terrace and then O’Connell School on the North Circular Road. The family eventually moved to Finglas.

His first job was as a paper boy for Independent Newspapers. He then spent some time in the Naval Reserve and worked in security before taking up a position in the Irish Distributive and Administrative Trade Union (Idatu).

In 1984, a number of women workers at Dunnes Stores in Henry Street, Dublin, refused to sell South African oranges as part of the growing campaign against the apartheid regime. The action was led by Mary Manning and Idatu shop steward Elizabeth Gearon.

Manning was suspended and Gearon and eight others walked out in sympathy. The strike lasted 2½ years, the strikers surviving on £21 a week strike pay.

Archbold, who was Dublin divisional organiser of Idatu at the time, supported them strongly, having been a long-time member of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement.

In a later interview he pointed out: “As the union organiser, I was paid at all times. It was the strikers, one of whom lost her house when she was unable to meet her mortgage payments, who made the sacrifices.”

He travelled to South Africa in 1985 with the Dunnes strikers but they were refused entry, held under heavily armed guard and put on the next flight home. Archbold regarded the Dunnes Stores strike against apartheid as “the finest example of trade union solidarity ever”.

He was in South Africa as an EU observer at the first democratic elections held there in 1994. Following that trip, he promised himself that he would return for a family holiday and finally made good on that promise in 2006, when he and his family met Nelson Mandela.

He remembered how informal Mandela was and how he welcomed them without any fuss. He found it very moving to meet “a man who has been an inspiration to me and many millions of others over many decades” and believed that he had given his two sons a great gift by arranging the meeting.

Archbold retired as national officer of Mandate in 2007. He was a long-standing member of the Global Solidarity Committee of Ictu, its chairman from 2001-2008, and he continued to serve as an ordinary member.

In an article in June 2013, he wrote that there was not an official Ictu policy boycotting South African goods in place when the Dunnes Stores strike started.

“We do have one now in relation to Israeli goods and the Irish trade union movement has succeeded in side-stepping it for the best part of six years . . . Every delay on our part prolongs the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Friends described him as a loving husband and father who was wry, self-deprecating, great company and a funny, warm and modest man.

He is survived by his wife, Rosaleen, sons Michael and Dylan, and sisters Nora and Liz.