Tuesday, August 4, 2009
In what participants are terming a victory, all 28 of the occupiers arrested this morning at the Thomas Cook office in Grafton Street, Dublin, Ireland have been released with a minimal punishment and Thomas Cook management are returning to the negotiating table.
Employees had made plans to strike in order to obtain a larger redundancy package following the announcement of the closure of their store; when the company attempted to close the store earlier and without warning, in response the workers began an occupation.
Of the over 44 people occupying the office last night, 28 refused to leave and were arrested between 4am and 5am this morning in a pre-dawn raid by the Garda Síochána reported to have involved at least 80 officers. “It was quite scary” when the police broke through the office’s glass door, noted occupier Caroline Cullen, speaking to Wikinews. “We haven’t had any notice”, she recalls telling the officers. Occupiers had expected the police to arrive later at 11am.
Cullen reports that of the 28 arrested, 27 went immediately to jail where they spent about nine hours; the 28th, Avril Boyne, was nine months pregnant and entered labour as the police arrived. She was taken to hospital and delivered a healthy baby girl, Chelsea, just after 11am.
While in jail, Cullen says that the 27 “weren’t treated like criminals”. They were not handcuffed and were provided with good food. The meal consisted of a hot lunch of fish & chips, and chocolates for dessert. The Gardaí also gave the occupiers private toilet facilities.
In court, the arrests of the 27 for contempt of court were purged, on the condition that they each sign a document saying they would comply with the court order in the future.
The employees of the Thomas Cook office in Grafton Street will return to work as usual tomorrow, with negotiations about the size of the employees pension package resuming tomorrow morning between the employees and Thomas Cook management. The workers will be represented by TSSA general secretary Gerry Doherty. Cullen told Wikinews that the Thomas Cook workers were “absolutely delighted” with the situation and hope to have a final settlement with the company tomorrow.
The Thomas Cook employees were supported in their occupation by the community and an impromptu and growing coalition of left-wing political groups. Socialist Party Councillor Matt Waine and People Before Profit Councillor Richard Boyd Barrett were among the 28 arrested this morning; the Workers Solidarity Movement and Eirigí also supported the demonstrations from the beginning; Sinn Féin made an official declaration of support after this morning’s arrests; and two Labour Party (Ireland) TDs, not speaking officially for the party, criticised Thomas Cook management’s conduct in statements released after the occupiers were released.
Trade union Unite has declared solidarity with the TSSA and the Thomas Cook workers.
Speaking to Wikinews from Socialist Party headquarters, Matt Waine told Wikinews that he and his party consider the results of the Thomas Cook occupation “definitely not a loss. It’s a victory. The workers have laid down a very important marker for other workers that are in a similar situation.” Workers, though, must remain militant, he said: “we feel that this issue has thrown the gauntlet down as to what they [workers] can expect from the police, the state etc. if they take action…this doesn’t end here. I think the issue still remains of justice for the workers in terms of a decent redundancy package.”
Waine also took issue with the TSSA’s refusal to support the occupiers after last night’s court order ruled that the industrial action was an illegal occupation. While allowing that the TSSA’s response in court was made “under pressure”, Waine said that always complying with the law, as general secretary Doherty pledged the TSSA would do, is “not what the trade union should stand for. The rights of members should be paramount.”
Thomas Cook management was unavailable for comment.