By Drew Freyne
Staff at the Iceland Store on Talbot Street, Dublin, have been occupying the shop since Monday evening in a dispute over unpaid wages. Iceland, owned by Metron Stores Limited, has debts of €36 million and was declared insolvent last week.
The workers were unceremoniously sacked on Wednesday, 21 June, during work hours via a phone call. The staff were told to leave the store and an email with the details was sent later. Disgracefully, no representative from Iceland was present to talk to the workers.
Workers at three other stores in Coolock, Northside Shopping Centre, and Clonmel, also received notice of lay-offs late on Tuesday night. A short sit-in was staged at the Coolock branch last week.
“Not going down without a fight”
Supported by the Independent Workers Union (IWU), the workers have been staging protests at the various stores affected by the layoffs. Workers at the Talbot Street location have organised a roster to maintain the occupation as long as necessary.
There has been no further communication from the bosses since the initial phone call and email. Speaking to Socialist Party reporters, workers at Talbot Street Lisa and Abby, both 18, stayed overnight in the shop on Monday and were still there at 6pm on Tuesday. Abby said: “They know we’re here but they don’t care… Everyone that works here is due wages. We’re just hoping we get it back.” Speaking to the Independent another worker, Edel, said: “We are not going down without a fight… We worked for that pay so we are entitled to it.”
The action taken by Iceland is eerily similar to that taken by Debenhams when workers there were sacked after the company declared insolvency. Indeed, former Debenhams workers have visited the Talbot Street location to show support. Locals in the area are also very supportive too.
Workers’ pay must be prioritised
More than 340 Iceland workers’ jobs are now at risk as the closures are likely to spread. Since buying the business in February of this year, Metron Stores owns all 27 stores in the south of Ireland. Since the takeover conditions for the workers rapidly deteriorated. The current situation was triggered when the already troubled business was ordered to recall imported meat products after it failed to produce the necessary tracing documentation. This is a typical cost-cutting practice that generally endangers workers, consumers, and results in additional cruelty to animals as regulations are ignored.
The action taken by the Iceland workers is admirable, and other workers should take note. A solidarity strike by workers at the other locations unaffected by closures would put bosses under significant pressure, and the affected workers should raise this action. The trade union movement as a whole should come out forcefully and support them too.
The government must enact the recommendations from the Debenhams Bill introduced by Socialist Party TD Mick Barry, to ensure that workers’ wages and redundancies are the first priority when companies go into receivership. Companies go bankrupt largely due to their own poor business practices, and those who have contributed the most to the profits that have been made – namely the workers – are consistently last to be paid when companies fail.
From occupation to worker’s control
Furthermore, job losses such as these should not be accepted. If the owners have proven incapable of making use of the resources at their disposable – the premises, materials and labour power – then the workers should come together and discuss whether they could organise to use them in a better way: possibly running a store or some other socially useful project under democratic workers’ control and management.
But only mass pressure from workers, unions and the communities can force the government to support them in such initiatives, by taking the company’s resources into public ownership and repudiating its debt (minus what’s owed to its workforce). In this way, a new publicly owned operation could be maintained.
The Socialist Party stands in full solidarity with the actions of the Iceland workers and will be supporting them and others who follow their example in whatever way we can.