Maggie O'Kane reports on conditions under apartheid in South Africa and how Dunnes Stores workers ended up on strike in protest.

Maggie O’Kane explains the apartheid regime in South Africa as a background to the Dunnes Stores strike. Her report shows the shanty conditions in the townships where 3.5 million black South Africans have been forced to live. 

A black may not sit beside a white in most cinemas, cannot eat in the same restaurant, nor can he lie in the next hospital bed.

In 1984 the Irish Distributive and Administrative Trade Union (IDATU) instructed its members not to handle South African goods in protest at apartheid. Karen Gearon, the shop steward in the Henry Street branch of Dunnes Stores in Dublin, passed this on to her colleagues. On 19 July 1984, Mary Manning was working at a check-out in the store when a customer came up to her with South African fruit. When management learned that she refused to handle it, the 21-year-old was suspended. Nine other workers walked out in support of her: Karen Gearon, Cathryn O’Reilly, Tommy Davis, Theresa Mooney, Veronica Munroe, Sandra Griffin, Alma Russell, Michelle Gavin and Liz Deasy. 

A picket was placed outside the branch, beginning a dispute that would last for two years and nine months. The report includes interviews with Mary Manning and Karen Gearon early in the strike. Anthony Bolger, a shopkeeper who refuses to stock South African goods, admires them, but they don’t get the same sympathy from the Moore St traders.