independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Dunnes strikers pay their final tribute to Mandela

FAREWELL TO THE INSPIRATION: Mary Manning and former colleagues at the Mansion House. Photo: Gerry Mooney

THEY came to say goodbye to the man who changed their lives forever.

Former Dunnes Stores workers who went on strike in the 1980s to highlight the horrors of Apartheid arrived together at the Mansion House yesterday just before 5pm to sign the book of condolences for Nelson Mandela.

But first, the women met at the Molly Malone statue at the bottom of Grafton Street, where they warmly greeted one another and enjoyed a quick catch-up.

Yet soon, it was apparent that the real reason for the meeting was so that they could walk together down Nassau Street and up Dawson Street as part of a small group.

They had shown unity years ago when they refused to handle South African goods, and yesterday, they were determined to do it again.

Mary Manning, 50, who led the Dunnes workers on the picket line and is now an office worker in Lucan, told the Sunday Independent: "It wouldn't feel right going into the Mansion House without the rest of the girls."

Karen Gearon, 49, drove from Tralee to meet up with her former colleagues.

"It's a very strange feeling to be here today in Dublin to sign the book, but there was no way I couldn't be here.

"Mandela changed my whole life totally, and educated me, and the life I've led since the strike has been completely different to anything it would have been if I hadn't become involved in the strike.

"When I met him in the Berkeley Hotel in 1990 he told me how proud he was of us. Think about it, he wasn't long out of prison and there he was telling us he was proud of us.

"His generosity of spirit was amazing, and it was his spirituality which stays with me," Karen told the Sunday Independent.

She now works with the carers' association in Tralee, and visited South Africa in 1985. She addressed the United Nations in New York at the age of 21, which she said was terrifying.

Veronica Munroe, 58, a single mother at the time of the strike, lost her house as a result of her beliefs. She didn't return to Dunnes, but worked briefly for now High Court Judge Michael White before spending 10 years in Australia.

Veronica, who is now a school secretary living in Lucan, said: "I'm not feeling emotional. It was a long time ago. When you think about it, the strike was nearly 30 years ago – almost the same amount of time Mandela was incarcerated.

"Everybody is put on this Earth to help someone or for some reason, so when you think of all the people he helped, you get a sense of all he did for us. We had no idea how long the strike would go on for. But it made no difference whether we were striking for wages or Apartheid; it was the injustice of it.

"None of us couldn't have been here, it's an important gesture to sign the book."

The Mandate trade union yesterday said it was in the process of trying to arrange the attendance of the Dunnes Stores anti-Apartheid strikers at Mandela's funeral in South Africa. Last night, suggestions were made that Dunnes Stores should finance any such trip.

President Michael D Higgins, accompanied by his wife Sabina, is due to depart Dublin today, arriving in Johannesburg tomorrow. He will attend the State memorial service for the global icon in Johannesburg on Tuesday morning.

Sunday Independent

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