The untold story of an anti apartheid striker
Mary manning with sinead o’brien
This is a real tale of David vs Goliath. 10 working class people from Dublin accept a directive from their union and take on a major employer. Much has been written about the Dunne’s stores strike from 1984 – 1986 but for the first time we get it from a strikers perspective.
It was July 1984 and Mary Manning was 21 and working as a till operator in Dunne’s Stores in Dublin’s Henry Street. Her union had passed a motion at their conference directing their members not to handle goods from South Africa. South Africa, at the time, was a racist nation implementing apartheid on its people. The world was beginning to seek out injustices and try and right them, or more to the point, some people in the world. A person came up and part of their shopping included 2 outspan grapefruits. Mary politely declined to handle the South Africa fruits as her union had directed and soon found herself berated by her manager. Mary and 8 other went in strike that day and their lives were about to change dramatically.
This was not your usual strike. Although the workers terms and conditions weren’t great in Dunne’s this was not about pay rises or longer breaks. It was about principal. And to win it required a change of hear in world politics. This change happens infrequently and the establishment are loathe to change.
From here the book becomes a history lesson told from a human perspective. It’s a lesson in trade unions and the potential they have. A lesson in how change operates slowly. A lesson in the horrors of apartheid. A lesson on the politics of the 80s as neoliberalism was starting to take hold. And finally a lesson on how that decade really did have some bad haircuts.
The strength and courage of the Dunne’s workers on strike is practically unsurpassable. The shop stayed open, the show went. The people concerned became politicized but they were never part of a bigger movement. There were no sympathy strikes. Whisk there was big outpourings of public sympathy the only way for the strike to succeed was to get Dunne’s management to talk or have government intervention around sanctions.
I was 16 when the strike kicked in. I was in a band playing punk rock and was following the miners strike in the us with great interest. Saturday afternoons were spent in Dublin city buying records and attending whatever March was put on. Many Saturdays were spent outside Dunne’s on Henry street as crowds swelled. We all supported these dreamers daring to try and change the world. We felt the cause was huge and didn’t really appreciate the plight of the 10 workers on strike.
Thankfully they stood tall through adversity and stood proud together. Something that is doubt would be recreated. This is a wonderful tale about wonderful people. People who never set out to be activists, they just wanted to go to work but followed the directions of their union. Please support their memory by buying this and remember that you can be the change you want to be.