Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Dark days in Dublin

The Gardai decided to stage a dawn raid at 5am this morning to arrest the staff of Thomas Cook's travel agency on Grafton St, who have been occupying the building since Friday to protest the inadequate redundancy package they're being offered, particularly when the CEO was paid at least 7 million Euro last year. The shop was meant to close in September but management arrived on Friday and told the workers that the shop was closing immediately that day, with a limited redundancy package on offer, and so the workers took the step of peacefully occupying the building.

There was a court order against them yesterday ordering them to vacate the premises at 7pm yesterday evening. They stayed on. With a friend I went to Grafton Street to show our support at about 6.50pm and stayed for over an hour with the few people outside the shop, standing in the rain. Some were friends or family of the workers but others including a couple of old women had come down individually simply to show their support, as we had. It was a small gesture by each of us, and miniscule compared to the action of those inside the shop, but showing solidarity is one of hte few things we can all do, and it seemed worthwhile.

Richard Boyd-Barrett, who is from the Socialist Worker Party and was elected last year to the county council under the People Before Profit Alliance, seemed to be the only elected official who showed support for the group, he had been around during much of the protest and went in to the shop last night, where he stayed all night. The group had support from surrounding shops who provided food and other supplies. The protest was sanctioned by the workers union, the Transport Salaries Staffs Association (TSSA), but following the court order which the union had to instruct them to comply with, the staff were acting independently. It was good to see the workers were members of a union, as union membership is low in Ireland and seemed to decrease during the 'boom years', and good also to see the union acting in support of their members, up to the legal limits.

The staff made their points well, emphasizing that this large multi-national company could easily afford to give them a better severance deal, especially considering so little notice was given, and that they were acting peacefully for their rights. Whatever your politics or views on the proper economic approach to take in this situation, there is no way in a peaceful democracy that this calm protest should have ended with such heavy-handed and unnecessary behaviour by the Gardai, who it should be remembered are carrying out the will of the state.

These people took a stand and they deserve recognition and respect for that. There was the court order and they were in contempt of that which meant they were likely to be arrested, and they were willing to continue despite their fear of being brought to prison (which has now happened) and of possibly getting a conviction. The Gardai were going to have to step in on foot of the court order at some point. What I find particularly appalling, and a very strong indictment of what is being done by the authorities in Ireland in the name of 'economic recovery' at the moment, is that they chose to execute a dawn raid, designed to intimidate and frighten these people, smashing in the glass door and apparently refusing to show the court order or any papers to the Thomas Cook staff before putting them into vans. A pregnant woman, one of two who were participating in the peaceful sit in, went into labour 2 weeks early as a result of the raid and was brought to hospital from prison.

Dawn raids are more familiar from totalitarian and state-terror regimes, and as actions taken against major criminals in efforts to surprise them in the act. Instead here in Dublin we have it being used entirely unnecessarily against peaceful protestors asking for a better redundancy deal in times of economic hardship when the parent company is posting profits.

I have a great deal of admiration for these people, they have been brave, they're refused to lie down and take this kind of treatment, and that is inspiring. And they have done it peacefully and by communicating the facts. It is a message that people need to stand up for their rights and say no to what is happening in Ireland these days, where economic difficulties are being used as excuses for fear-mongering and for reducing workers' and ordinary people's rights, while large profits continue to be made and the wealthy are not made to shoulder a proportional amount of the burden. As a country at the moment we seem only too willing to shore up major institutions and absorb 'toxic' debts made by millionaires and their companies, and use citizens' money to do it, while ordinary people lose their jobs and are told there's nothing there for them. When they dare to peacefully voice their dissent, this is how they are treated, instead of as valuable citizens who deserve a decent living and have a right to protest. Dark days in Dublin indeed.

More photos at:
Photos of Thomas Cook protest by lusciousblopster

More info and video at:

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