Breaking News: 2018 Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Award for Mary Manning and the Dunnes Stores Strikers.

2018 Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Award for Mary Manning and the Dunnes Stores Strikers.

  • Mary Manning presentation with James Nolan
  • Mary Manning
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Dunnes Strike

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is proud to announce that the 2018 Spirit of Mother Jones Award has been awarded to Mary Manning and the Dunnes Stores Strikers.

On July 19th 1984, Mary, while working on the cash registers at the Dunnes Stores branch on Henry Street in Dublin refused to register the sale of two grapefruit for a customer in accordance with the stated policy of her trade union (IDATU… Mandate Trade Union).

Mary was immediately suspended by the Dunnes Stores management, and thus a simple action initiated the strike…..eight women and one man joined Mary on the picket lines, and the strike continued for 2 years and nine months. Their actions on that day led eventually to world-wide interest and forced a change in Irish Government policy.

According to James Nolan, spokesperson for the Cork Mother Jones Committee,

which presents this annual award


“Mary Manning and her colleagues were willing to act in accordance with the stated policy of their trade union motions and do what was right to make a determined stand to raise awareness of the brutal apartheid regime which existed in South Africa. Mary’s stand on that day in July 1984 triggered the subsequent events.

In spite of all obstacles and harassment and silence from those who should have supported them, these workers refused to be silenced and bravely stood up for the human rights of South Africans who were suffering under the apartheid regime.”

“At extraordinary personal cost, Mary Manning and her colleagues walked the picket lines month after month for over 30 months. Their actions resonated around the world and gave inspiration and hope to the oppressed people suffering under the apartheid regime.”

“None other than the future President of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela himself who was in prison at the time, has stated that the Dunnes Stores Strikers gave him   great hope and inspiration. Their actions forced the Irish Government to eventually ban the import of South African products to Ireland and triggered the wider boycott of these products elsewhere. Mary Manning and the Dunnes Stores Strikers are worthy recipients of the 2018 Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Award.”

Mary Manning is a native of Dublin. She emigrated to Australia for a number of years following the ending of the strike in 1987. Mary has two daughters Siobhan and Niamh and lives with her partner Dave in Dublin. She is the author with Sinead O’Brien of the recent book Striking Back – The Untold Story of an Anti-Apartheid Striker, published by Collins Press

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is honoured that Mary has come to speak at the 2018 Spirit of Mother Jones Summer School and has accepted this award on behalf of herself and her brave colleagues. The award is presented annually to people who act and work in the spirit of Mother Jones and Mary Manning and her colleagues join a worthy list of past recipients.

The 2018 Award will be presented to Ms. Manning by Mr. James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee on Friday evening August 3rd at the Firkin Crane Theatre, in the Shandon Historic Quarter in Cork.

The Dunnes Stores Strikers:

Mary Manning, Cathyrn O’Reilly, Sandra Griffin, Alma Russell, Theresa Mooney, Vonnie Malone, Karen Gearon, Tommy Davis, Michelle Glavin and Liz Deasy,


The Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Awards to date have been,

2013,     Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts. (Hillsborough Family Support Group)

2014,    Gareth Peirce. Solicitor.

2015      Fr Peter McVerry. Campaigner for the homeless.

2016     Dave Hopper (RIP) General Secretary, Durham Miners’ Association.

2017     Ken Fleming. (International Transport Workers Federation.)                  .

For further details contact

Ger O’Mahony 0863196063

James Nolan 0861651356

Ann Piggott 087 9031282

Date: Friday 3rd August 2018.

Mary Manning to speak at this year’s Spirit of Mother Jones festival

Mary Manning, one of the Dunnes Stores Strikers will speak at the Spirit of Mother Jones Summer School on Friday evening 3rd August at the Firkin Theatre in Shandon at 7.30.

Dunnes Stores strikers 2

Dunnes Stores strikers Karen Gearon and Mary Manning with the late Nimrod Sejake of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and ANC.

On July 19th 1984, Mary Manning went to work as usual on the cash registers at the Dunnes Stores, Henry Street branch in Dublin. Her union IDATU (Irish Distributive Administrative Trade Union, now Mandate Trade Union) led by Cork born John Mitchell had earlier instructed its union members not to handle South African products.

She describes what happened…

“My palms started sweating as I opened up my cash register. Everything after this happened very quickly. I spotted a middle-aged woman in the distance with two large yellow grapefruits in her basket. My heartbeat increased at the sight of them. I avoided eye-contact and popped my head down straight away. ‘Please don’t come to me, please go to any other till’ I thought to myself but the woman plonked her basket at my till, completely oblivious to the internal crisis unfolding within me.”

That morning, Ms. Manning refused to register the sale of those South African products. She was immediately suspended and another nine of her colleagues joined her on the picket line.


In her recent book with Sinéad O’Brien “Striking Back – the untold story of an Anti-Apartheid Striker”, published by Collins Press, Mary describes the long months during which she and her union colleagues spent on the picket lines, even as the strike began to generate worldwide publicity.

She describes the ups and downs of the protest and gives a vivid account of the dark days of the protest when the young Dublin women and their colleague Tommy Davis felt very alone. Mary tells of her growing personal commitment to the strike and her increasing political awareness and independence unfolds as the daily grind of the strike continued for almost three years.


However the spirits, morale and determination of the strikers remained high in spite of the failure of some fellow workers to support them, personal sacrifices in the midst of a recession and being let down by some of those who should have provided support. Yet as the national support for the strike and widespread opposition to apartheid grew, it led to people such as Seamus Heaney, Christy Moore, Sean McBride Donal Lunny, the incredible Nimrod Sejake and thousands of people joining the strikers on the picket line in Henry Street and other protests in Dublin and elsewhere around the country. The resolve of the strikers began to make international headlines.


Bishop Desmond Tutu

In July 1985, the strikers attempted to visit South Africa to meet Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, at his invitation, but they were arrested at Jan Smuts Airport, refused entry and banned from the country. On their eventual return to Dublin, the strikers were introduced to the world’s media as “the ten deadliest shop workers in the world” by their union official, the late Brendan Archbold. It proved to be a huge international PR disaster for the apartheid system and the South African government.

As a result of the support for the strike, by April 1987, the Irish government had banned the importation of South African products and later Mary and some of her colleagues finally returned to work.  However as she and Karen Gearon were being treated within Dunnes Stores as the ringleaders of the strike she felt they were being singled out and all aspects of their work questioned and so finally Mary left the company. On the 5th November 1988, she emigrated to Australia, where she spent five years.

Less than six months after his release from prison after 27 years, on 2nd July 1990, Nelson Mandela arrived in Ireland and met the Dunnes Stores Strikers. He praised how the “ young shop workers on Henry Street in Dublin, who in 1984, refused to handle the fruits of apartheid, provided me with great hope during my years of imprisonment and inspiration to millions of South Africans that ordinary people, far away from the crucible of apartheid , cared for our freedom.”  Mary was unable to afford the flight to come back from Australia to meet Nelson Mandela.

On 18th May 2015 a plaque was unveiled on Henry Street, Dublin which commemorates the actions of Mary Manning and her colleagues….. brave and inspiring actions which had a worldwide impact.


Mary Manning now (Photo courtesy of Collins PressP

The Dunnes Stores Strikers were Cathryn O’Reilly, Sandra Griffin, Alma Russell, Theresa Mooney, Vonnie Malone, Karen Gearon, Tommy Davis, Michelle Glavin, Liz Deasy and Mary Manning. Brendan Barron was suspended in October 1985 in Crumlin by Dunnes Stores for refusing to handle South African products.

Mary Manning accompanied by Sinéad O’Brien will tell the story of the historic Dunnes Stores Strike at the Firkin Theatre on Friday evening 3rd August. All are welcome.

Anne Scargill & Betty Cook sing “The Women’s Song”

Anne Scargill and Betty Cook, Women Against Pit Closures at the Firkin Crane with Yorkshire Mother Jones banner.
Anne Scargill and Betty Cook, Women Against Pit Closures at the Firkin Crane with Yorkshire Mother Jones banner.

A number of people have asked if any video footage was available of Anne Scargill and Betty Cook of Women Against Pit Closures singing their anthem from the Miners Strike era – “The Women’s Song”.  The song was written by Mal Finch.  Our thanks to Frameworks Films for the video.  By popular demand here it is – performed during their session at the Firkin Crane on July 31st.

Vita Cortex documentary to feature at Mother Jones Festival

Vita Cortex workers and supporters rally at factory

Vita Cortex workers and supporters rally at factory

A documentary on the lengthy struggle of the Vita Cortex workers will be shown at the Mother Jones Festival in Cork on Wednesday, 31st July. The workers sit-in at the Vita Cortex factory has already gone down in the annals of Cork’s long history of worker’s struggle. The 161 day long occupation of the plant at Kinsale Road began on 16th December 2011 after the workers at the factory were told that Friday evening that their jobs were gone and that would be getting no redundancy pay from the company. The shell-shocked workers, some of whom had given as much as 47 years of service to the company, decided this was completely unacceptable and they began a sit in that was to last until 24th May 2012 and gain the workers worldwide notice and respect.

The Vita Cortex occupation showed graphically that a century after the great labour disputes of the early 20th century workers are still under threat from unscrupulous employers and have to fight for every entitlement. While many gains have been made, especially through the efforts of the trade union movement and workers’ blood, sweat and tears, these gains can easily be reversed unless struggle continues and people are prepared to take a stand.

Vita Cortex 011

The film “161 Days – the Vita Cortex workers’ struggle” is a bird’s-eye view of the long fight of the workers for a just settlement from their employer. The film, shot by Cork filmmaker Declan O’Connell and produced by his son, Barra, engages with the workers and watches the developing situation as messages of support flood in from around the world. Among those sending messages of support were Sir Alex Ferguson, former footballer Paul McGrath, actor Cillian Murphy, ex-President Mary Robinson, singer Christy Moore and renowned philosopher and commentator Noam Chomsky. The film follows the highs and lows of the workers morale, the solidarity, the protests and the attempts to achieve a just settlement and, finally, the eventual jubilation when the workers succeed. The film will be shown at the Firkin Crane, Shandon at 11.00am on Wednesday, 31st July as part of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.

Day 30 of occupation which was to last 161 days

Day 30 of occupation which was to last 161 days

The Cork Lockout of 1909

The Cork Strike and Lockout.

Cork Historian Luke Dineen will give an account of a little remembered dispute in Cork in 1909, which had an influence on the later Dublin Lockout of 1913. Luke will speak at the Firkin Crane on Wednesday 31st July at 2pm.

On Thursday June 10th 1909 some coal porters affiliated to the ITGWU at Messrs Sutton walked off their jobs as a result of having to work alongside others from the British based union the Workers Union of Great Britain and Ireland. What started as inter union hostility led to a prolonged and vicious labour war across Cork City. According to the Cork Constitution some 500 policemen occupied Cork by 18th June to prevent the growing violence.

By 22nd June thousands of workers were locked out by employers across the City. Workers marched through Cork on successive days from June 23-26. By 1st July 1909, some 6000 men were either on Strike or locked out and sacked from their jobs. The Cork Employers’ Federation began to employ blacklegs or Workers Union men, which led to serious animosity.

Newspaper photo of strike-breaking truck escorted by police and followed by strikers, St. Patrick's Quay, Cork

Newspaper photo of strike-breaking truck escorted by police and followed by strikers, St. Patrick’s Quay, Cork

With strike pay to the unionised labour minimal and many workers receiving no income at all, and with workers protests being met with violence from the RIC, the strike, lockout fell apart in the early days of July 1909. “By the end of the lockout, Cork’s labour movement was in a shambolic state” according to Luke Dineen.

These events in Cork influenced the formation in 1911 of the Dublin Employers Federation to come together, remain united and well organized under William Martin Murphy It demonstrated that “organised ruthlessness” against the ITGWU was the road to victory. In addition it realised that the skillful use of the media against the workers was essential.

The ITGWU also learned that it needed major financial resources to support its members on a prolonged strike or lockout. During the Cork strike, James Fearon of the ITGWU organized a type of protective workers militia among the Cork workers to protect themselves from the attacks of the RIC and imported blacklegs. Luke Dineen states that “this was the first time that the Irish urban poor came together for the purpose of mutual self defence”. The emergence of the Irish Citizen Army later in Dublin may have owed its gestation to the earlier organised efforts to protect workers from the baton charges in Cork.

Ship being unloaded at St. Patrick's Quay, Cork around 1900

Ship being unloaded at St. Patrick’s Quay, Cork around 1900

Luke Dineen is a graduate of University College Cork. He recently completed a Master’s Degree in the Irish Revolution 1912-1923.