Debenhams workers’ struggle – an example to all

The closure of Debenhams Irish operation more than a 100 days ago was done in the cynical expectation that it was not possible for the workers to sustain any kind organised response through the lockdown months. Not only has the struggle for a decent settlement survived but it has grown in strength in recent weeks.

With the proper resumption of the Dáil three weeks ago the Debenhams struggle has been elevated as a political issue focussing both on the specific settlement that the workers deserve but also changes that are required that would benefit all workers faced with a similar situation.

In this sense the Debenhams workers are doing more that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in advancing workers rights. This is both a credit to the Debenhams workers but it highlights a dereliction by ICTU who have not championed this struggle in the way they ought to have done. Unfortunately the same has to be said of MANDATE at leadership level whose overall role in leading this struggle has been wanting.

Pickets have extended to all stores and permanent blockades or night watches ensure that efforts to move stock will be prevented. The liquidator KPMG is under tremendous pressure from landlords and creditors, some of whom have initiated court proceedings, to proceed quickly with the liquidation.

Having tested the willingness of the workers and their supporters, including Socialist Party activists, to impede the removal of valuable stock until a just settlement in agreed a likely way for the liquidator and/or concession companies to proceed is via the courts.

Recent surveillance by staff from security firm K-Tech, hired by the liquidator, including photographing pickets is probably not simply an exercise in intimidation. It is likely to form part of a legal affidavit that KPMG will supply to the courts as part of an injunction application.

Moves in this direction should be a cue for a response from the workers’ movement. If ICTU won’t respond a direct appeal by Debenhams workers to the wider working class to bring people out in bigger numbers. There is already widespread support for the Debenhams workers and every opportunity should be seized to make that support more active and visible.

We demand:

  • Debenhams Retail Ireland Ltd be released as co-guarantor of the UK parents £200m loan to itself!
  • Money owed by DRIL to the Revenue and proceeds from Irish online sales be set aside to fund an enhanced redundancy package
  • Debenhams workers entitlement to four weeks pay per years service takes precedence over other debts
  • The government legislate before the summer recess the recommendations of the Duffy Cahill report as well as legally placing workers at the top of the hierarchy of creditors and obliging full access to company books in liquidation scenarios in the future
  • The July ‘retail stimulus’ include direct government investment in safeguarding retail jobs by nationalising major jobs shedding outlets

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