La Senza workers make a stand for all workers

On Monday 9 January 2011 a group of women workers from the La Senza lingerie chain occupied the company’s store in Liffey Valley Clondalkin after the company had sacked them and withheld their pay. Eoin Ó Broin  spoke to the spokesperson for the workers, 20-year-old Tara Keane from Inchicore, about the workers' experience of the week long occupation.

“On Monday morning I went into work and received calls saying that there were men there packing up the other shops. A few of us spoke together and decided that we would sit-in in solidarity with the girls who had just lost their jobs.  As far as I was concerned my job was still there. I hadn’t been told otherwise. So we went straight to Liffey Valley from work with the girls.

“On Monday night KPMG phoned me and said my job was gone and not to come to work on Tuesday morning. That made us more determined to do the sit-in. The way we found out was just absolutely appalling.

“On Tuesday morning I made a few phone calls to the media. We expected to be booted out by Tuesday afternoon. But it just snowballed once the media took interest. Then everyone got behind us so it just gave the movement a lot more power.

“We are all so angry. It was just an impulse decision to occupy. We didn’t know what else to do. We had no answers from anyone; we had no paperwork to take to social welfare. As far as we were concerned the store stock and whatever money was in the safe were the only bargaining chips we had to get what we were entitled to.

“So the occupation was just common sense. If we left the store then La Senza would have won. By sitting-in we were shining a little bit of light on what they are doing, making bad publicity for them forcing them to resolve things as quickly as they can.

“The public support was absolutely incredible, completely overwhelming. From the moment Liffey Valley opened on Tuesday morning people stopped to read the signs we put in the windows, they came with food, money, blankets, and cups of tea. The stores in Liffey Valley were also great; they did collections, sent down tea every hour. The support was unreal.  I think what was happening to us was really resonating with people, because it is happening all across Ireland and I think we captured the mood of people who are fed up and not willing to take it anymore. That’s why they got behind us so much.

“We also had support from every political party. It wasn’t about party politics, they genuinely put that aside and everyone came together for us. We had support from Sinn Féin, Labour, People Before Profit Alliance, Fine Gael. It was incredible.

“And then there was the debate in the Dáil. I definitely think it contributed to the campaign because it put pressure on the Government. As a result of the debate Minister Sean Sherlock meet with us twice and agreed to speak with Richard Bruton and Joan Burton about what was going on

“We all felt incredibly proud. It’s not something you imagine you can achieve, it’s not something I thought I would end up doing, but we knew if it was in the Dail it was going to be all over the media.

“The trade unions gave us huge support. I don’t think we would have gotten the result we did if they hadn’t been involved. Mandate came and really got the ball rolling for us, got us organised. I think it’s really important for workers, particularly in retail to join the union. If we hadn’t have had members in the union we really would have been lost.

“During the week negotiations took place with KPMG, the administrators acting on behalf of La Senza. Then on Friday evening we got word that it was all over. I was absolutely delighted. I think I speak for all the girls when I say we were so emotional because we had been there all week getting two hours sleep a night, and then suddenly to realise you got what you asked. It was great, the pride we all felt was unreal. We didn’t expect to get a successful result. We thought we would raise awareness to help the next people after us. We were very proud and very happy.

“Reflecting back on our week long sit-in I would say that the main lesson from our experience is the importance of being in a trade union.  I would say to all workers, no matter what sector you work in, join a union. You have rights , there is legislation there to protect your rights, and if you take a stand like we did, you are standing up for your basic rights as an employee. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied, don’t allow yourself to be treated badly. We didn’t and we got what we asked for.”

Image top: Oast House Archive.