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Poet Seamus Heaney (right) joins the strikers.
South Africa

Dunnes workers remember their 2 years and 9 months protesting apartheid

“There were times on the picket line when we felt so down, that we just wanted to walk away from it, but we would never have gone back in…”

Updated 7.33am

A PLAQUE TO honour Dunnes Stores workers who took part in the anti-apartheid strike in the mid-1980s was unveiled on Henry Street in Dublin city centre yesterday.

Eleven young workers went on strike for two years and nine months for their right not to handle goods from South Africa, beginning their protest in 1984.

The strike eventually led to the Irish government banning South African products. The late Nelson Mandela said the Dunnes workers’ stand helped keep him going during his time in prison.

Speaking at the event, John Douglas, Mandate Trade Union General Secretary, said the protesters were “ridiculed” as work colleagues and members of the public “passed their pickets and abused them on a daily basis”.

“They were only teenagers at the time and it would have been so easy to just walk away, but they stood strong. They stayed outside this shop for more than two-and-a-half years because of an injustice that was happening to people they had never met more than 10,000 kilometres away. That type of solidarity is very rare and this city and this country should be very proud of their inspirational stand,” Douglas said.

Karen Gearon, shop steward during the strike, said the plaque also remembers the workers’ union representative at the time – the late Brendan Archbold.

“When the strike started he told us we wouldn’t be out for more than two weeks. It was probably the only thing he got wrong in the whole dispute. He was so supportive to us, but we never thought it would go on for two years and nine months,” Gaeron said.

There were times on the picket line when we felt so down, that we just wanted to walk away from it. But we would never have gone back in and handled South African produce, we would have lost our jobs before we did that.

Brendan’s wife Roseleen Archbold said her husband was “passionate about the South African struggle and was immensely proud of the strikers and the sacrifices they made”.

“Sadly neither Bren or his hero Mandela can be here to witness this wonderful event, however, this tribute will ensure that their legacy will never be forgotten and we as a family are immensely proud of him and his work,” she added.

DUNNES STORES STRIKES ANTI APARTHEID MOVEMENT IN IRELAND RACIAL ISSUES Dunnes Stores worker Mary Manning on strike outside on Henry Street. /Photocall Ireland /Photocall Ireland

The plaque honours all who took part in the strike including: Brendan Archbold, Karen Gearon, Mary Manning, Liz Deasy, Michelle Gavin, Vonnie Munroe, Alma Russell, Tommy Davis, Sandra Griffin, Theresa Mooney, Catherine O’Reilly and Brendan Barron.

Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin Larry O’Toole praised the workers today, saying the strike was “an historic struggle that shined a light on workers solidarity and gathered massive international support”.

First published 18 May, 7.13pm

30 years on: A Dunnes Stores worker ‘changed the face of the anti-apartheid movement’

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