When a force of 80 – 100 gardai arrived at the Thomas Cooke office in Grafton Street Dublin at 5a.m. on Tuesday 4th August, smashed the door down, and dragged 28 protesting workers off to the Bridewell Garda Station, the Irish state was attempting to deliver a strong message to all workers. Throughout the bank holiday weekend, there had been a tremendous outpouring of public support for the workers’ occupation from the general public. (see http://www.wsm.ie/story/5861 for the background to the occupation). The state could not afford to allow this struggle to become a focal point for growing anger with the manner in which ordinary people are being made to pay for the financial crisis caused by wealthy bankers and property developers.

The heavy-handed response to the occupation was designed to intimidate the Thomas Cooke workers into submission and also to issue a warning to any other group of workers who might be uppity enough to decide to stand up for their rights!

Not defeated
However when the workers walked out the front gates of the Four Courts almost 11 hours later to the cheers of several hundred supporters who had spent the afternoon protesting outside the courts, they too were delivering a strong message to all workers. It was a message that had been a rallying cry during the occupation and which had been loudly chanted all afternoon while the High court case took place – “The workers united shall never be defeated.”

Despite the intimidatory manner in which they had been treated – first by their bosses when management representatives tried to throw them out of the office on the previous Friday afternoon, and then by the State who managed to hold several emergency High Court hearings over the course of the Bank Holiday weekend before eventually unleashing the full force of ‘the law’ on them in the early hours of the morning – they walked out with their heads held high, unbeaten, unbowed and still determined to force a decent redundancy package out of their millionaire bosses.

All workers can take heart from the struggle put up by the Thomas Cooke workers. By taking the direct action of occupying the office when management attempted to bully them, they forced the company back to the negotiating table. They showed that they were not going to be bullied and they demonstrated clearly to us all that when we stand together we can’t be pushed around by bosses or the state.

Events in Ireland’s courts in the last couple of weeks have shown clearly the class divide that clearly exists. At the same time that this group of workers were before the High Court, in another part of the same building Supreme Court judges were giving property developer Liam Carroll more time to protect his billions. The irony couldn’t have been greater. A group of ordinary workers fighting for a couple of weeks extra redundancy payment (a total of about €300,000 from a company which made €400million profit last year) were treated as criminals while one of the principal creators of the property ‘boom’ which led to the current financial crisis was being treated with kidgloves and given every possible opportunity to protect his empire.

Just a week earlier, two Shell to Sea campaigners, Niall Harnett and Maura Harrington, had been sentenced to eight and four months’ prison respectively as a result of their participation in ongoing peaceful protests against the attempts to force Shell’s pipeline on the North Mayo community. (see http://www.indymedia.ie/article/93365). This was but the latest effort by the State to criminalise opposition to Shell’s attempts to force an unsafe and unwanted high-power gas pipe on the North Mayo community. While the government was unveiling the legislation to establish the National Assets Management Agency to rescue the bankers and developers whose actions have resulted in the impoverishment of tens of thousands of people, two campaigners were being jailed for standing up for their community.

The €30billion Corrib gas field was given to multinational oil companies under the most generous licensing terms in the world by the corrupt former Fianna Fail minister Ray Burke. If that deal was now cancelled and the revenues generated by this natural resource used to fund much needed public services for the benefit of all of the people in Ireland, there would be no need for Bord Snip and no need for attacks on our education, health and social welfare services. Instead those who are brave enough to stand up against this rip-off are criminalised and attacked by the forces of ‘law and order’.

Also in the past couple of weeks, striking workers at Marine Terminals in Dublin port have been taken to court on several occasions where injunctions have been given to the company in an attempt to prevent effective picketing (see http://www.indymedia.ie/article/93238). And management at Mr. Binman in Tipperary, Limerick and Waterford where workers have been on strike since late March, have applied to the High Court for an injunction against picketing (http://www.indymedia.ie/article/93352).

The coming months will see more and more outbreaks of opposition to government cuts and bosses’ attacks. Bosses will attempt to use the ‘law and order’ argument and the state’s courts and cops to attempt to prevent effective fightback. But as the Thomas Cooke workers, the Shell to Sea campaigners and plenty of others have shown we do not have to accept their concept of ‘law and order’. Our bottom line as workers, unemployed and unwaged must be to offer solidarity to each others’ struggles and to refuse to be intimidated.

Together we are stronger. Let’s build the resistance.

More WSM articles on The Occupation of Thomas Cook