This week the Debenhams workers are in their seventh month of struggle for a decent redundancy payment They were subjected to High Court injunctions by the liquidator KPMG. This marks an escalation of attempts to crush the workers.
Within the trade union movement pressure is building for a mobilisation to be called by the leadership of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) in support of these workers. The ICTU leadership position seems to be that implementation of the 2016 ‘Duffy-Cahill’ Report holds the key to resolving this dispute. Indeed, implementation of this report has been one of the key demands of the workers on the Debenhams’ picket lines since the start of the dispute, but it is not enough.
The austerity government of Fine Gael and Labour were deeply embarrassed in 2015 when the management of Clery’s took advantage of very favourable laws to shut up shop and leave their workers with nothing.
That Fine Gael and Labour coalition were, by 2015, already four years into their campaign of vicious attacks on the working class but were beginning to meet their match with a growing movement against the water charges.
In an attempt to pretend to do something, they commissioned a report into how the law might be changed so a Clery’s type situation could never happen again. This became known as the Duffy-Cahill Report and was published in March 2016. By that time the Labour Party had been decimated in the February 2016 general election and Fine Gael had been hit hard, too.
The report itself is written in dense legalese but the gist of it sketches out how workers’ redundancy payments could be prioritised where a business goes into liquidation. It proposes some mild reforms that could, potentially, be useful to workers in a situation like Clery’s or the present Debenhams dispute. We have to ask, though, why was it never implemented, over four and a half years after it was published?
The fate of the Duffy-Cahill Report offers an important insight into how the Irish capitalist establishment views the concerns of working people. It is one of any number of instances were reports are commissioned with great fanfare by that establishment, who have no intention of ever implementing their recommendations.
Sadly, the leadership of the trade union movement has questions to answer, too. Where reforms, like the Duffy-Cahill report, are secured for workers, the trade union movement must move to have them implemented quickly.
Limitations of reliance on capitalist politicians
It is not enough to get a couple of dozen TDs to sign pledges to implement reforms, although this is important. What is needed to transform conditions is a mass party representing the interests of working-class people. In building towards the establishment of such a mass party we need to mobilise rank-and-file trade union in concerted, public, campaigns to push for reforms to be passed into law.
The result of inaction on this report is the 1000 Debenhams workers battling right now to ensure they get more than a measly statutory redundancy, despite the decades of service given to the company by most of these workers.
Now that the liquidators have called in the capitalist courts to defeat this struggle, the Debenhams workers are entitled to call upon the heavy artillery of the trade union movement to secure a resolution to the current situation.
Yes, the trade union movement should push to get the, very modest, proposals contained in the Duffy-Cahill report implemented immediately to ensure the Debenham’s workers get their entitlements. But it must also mobilise to face down KPMG.
Low paid retail workers have heroically help to keep our society going throughout the COVID-19 crisis. They will be called on to do even more as the second wave hits. They have kept the counters filled, the fridges full, clothes on the hangars and the shelves stacked in retail outlets in every community. The very least they deserve is that any boss contemplating a quick closure and get-away without paying redundancy, will be prevented from doing so.
Militant Left are in favour of reforms under capitalism, such as the Duffy-Cahill report, that strengthen the hand of working people against the boss class. However, we argue that all reforms under capitalism are only temporary and vulnerable to attack by the bosses. Only the overthrow of capitalism and the transformation to a socialist society will serve to offer long term economic security, prosperity and well- being to workers.