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Occupation, Occupation, Occupation!

Fiona Harrington reports on the recent occupation in Dublin by Thomas Cook employees.

Like a reflection from the Vestas occupation on the isle of Wight, around 40 employees of the Thomas Cook travel agency in Dublin were last week forcibly removed from an office building they had been occupying in protest at the closure of two shops, the arbitrary dismissal of the workers and the levels of redundancy payments for previous job losses.

The initial occupation took place after managers, especially flown in from Britain to announce the closures and dismissals, were taken by surprise and were shocked to find, that instead of being in the position of sacking the Thomas Cook employees, were themselves subjected to dismissal and unceremoniously ejected from the North Earl Street office.

This isn't how workers are expected to behave surely? The script shouldn't suddenly change and read "workers throw out their managers who exit stage right as the workers cheer." Nonetheless this is exactly what did happen. The cry of "Lock In!" was made as soon as it was realised what management had in store when they arrived to tell the office workers to assemble for a special meeting on the morning of the 31st July.

In short order the occupation was in force and the managers and a press photographer found themselves out on the street as the workers locked in and support arrived in the form of the SWP. They began to distribute leaflets about the dispute to members of the public, who were extremely responsive and sympathetic to the occupation.

In the ensuing days food was donated from surrounding shops and fast food outlets in a display of support and solidarity. The Earl Street action spread to the second office in Grafton Street where two councillors, one from the Socialist Party and one from the People Before Profit (SWP) group joined the occupation.

However like so many similar courageous and determined occupations from Visteon to Vestas it was brought to an unseemly conclusion by the state, this time by up to 100 Gardai (Irish police) who on the sixth day arrived with battering rams to break in and arrest the people inside, including the two councillors and a woman who was eight months pregnant.

She was later released and brought to hospital where she gave birth a month early.
The brutality of the Gardai who dragged people out of the offices is not unusual in current times, one comment to the Indymedia.ie site stated the commentator's belief that the methods used were comparable to the tactics used by Gardai in Westport, Co. Mayo against the “Shell to Sea” protestors and that it was likely that some of the officers had in fact been in Mayo and honed their brutality there.

What is certain is that the arrested workers have been remanded at the Bridewell Garda Station prior to being charged at the Four Courts. Not sure what they will be charged with and perhaps they will be acquitted but whatever their immediate fate is, almost certainly they will not be returning to work as travel agent employees but instead join the rapidly growing ranks of Ireland's unemployed.

Protests took place outside the Bridewell near the courts in support of the remanded workers. Picketing in support of the Dublin workers has also been taking place in Belfast.

They won't have gone without a fight though like the many others who have also not just submitted to the diktats of the bosses. Occupations have certainly come back into fashion and a good thing too, employers if they are not altogether stupid, will have to take into account what their unruly employees might do from now on if their livelihoods are threatened. A proud and unsubmissive work force is the capitalist's nightmare, so support the struggles and bring on the nightmares!

However one person who won't be suffering from lack of sleep or nightmares unfortunately, is Thomas Cook boss, Manny Fontenla-Novoa, who reportedly made a £7 million bonus last year as a reward for his "job-culling" efforts which illustrates, if more illustration were needed, where priorities lie.

10 August 2009

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