Ireland: Thomas Cook occupation – an eyewitness account

"A living lesson for workers everywhere"

Below we publish an eyewitness account by Socialist Party councillor Matt Waine of the events of the last week in Thomas Cook, Grafton Street, Dublin. Cllr Waine was arrested along with 28 workers in the early hours of Tuesday morning 4 August and locked up at Bridewell Garda station. For further bakground information see this article

Thomas Cook occupation – an eyewitness account

Thomas Cook workers and coucillor Matt Waine after their release from custody

At 6.30pm on Monday 3 August, as the rain bucketed down, I peered through the window of the Thomas Cook store on Grafton St as the workers and their union officials discussed the latest demand from the High Court to vacate the premises they had been occupying since Friday 31 July. All of a sudden, there was a tremedous cheer – they had voted, unanimously, to ignore the High Court order and to continue with their occupation.

From that moment on, this dispute became more than an issue of redundancy for a small group of workers. It turned into a David versus Goliath struggle of young, mainly female working class people against a giant multi-national corporation that crystalised the anger of hundreds of thousands of workers across the country at the inequitable way the economic crisis was impacting on peoples lives.

What is more, these workers took this brave decision in the full knowledge of what the consequences could be (fines or a prison term) and against the advice of their solicitor and their union (TSSA) general secretary. They showed more determination during the five day occupation than the trade union leaders have shown in the last 22 years of "social partnership".

Trade unionists gather in support of arrested workers

No option but to fight

These workers were left with no option but to stand and fight for their livelihoods. When they rejected the offer of five weeks redundancy per year of service and instead argued for eight weeks, the company contemptuously announced that the offer was now reduced to two weeks and brought forward the planned closure of the store by one month.

This company are projected to make over €400 million this year. The CEO of the company, Manny Fontenla-Novoa, recently received a 34% pay rise and a €7 million bonus. This was his reward for boosting profits by making over 2,000 low paid Thomas Cook workers in Britain redundant.

The occupation came to an end in a 5.00am raid by over 100 Gardai (police) swooping first on 20 supporters who were camped outside the store and then using a battering ram to enter the shop and arrest everyone inside including myself. These heavy-handed tactics were an attempt by the state to make an example of the Thomas Cook workers – a warning to others not to try the same thing.

But not everyone receives this treatment at the hands of the state. While 28 Thomas Cook workers and their supporters sat in jail cells in the Bridewell, property magnate Liam Carroll, whose greed and speculation contributed in no small way to the economic crisis, was afforded the protection of the courts against attempts to seize part of his wealth.

The real message from this dispute is that any group of workers can defend their wages, rights and jobs if they take action and remain united and determined. It was an honour to stand shoulder to shoulder with these workers. The occupation was a lesson in working class discipline and organisation and will remain a living lesson for workers everywhere.

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August 2009