Star Rating:

406 Days

Director: Joe Lee

Actors: Carol Quinn, Brian Roche

Release Date: Friday 26th May 2023

Genre(s): Documentary

Running time: 90 minutes

On April 9th, 2020, nearly 1,000 Irish Debenhams workers - most of them women - received a generic email telling them their jobs were gone. The longest-ever Irish industrial dispute began, with pickets set up across 11 locations. By its end, the strike made international headlines and became a moment in Irish history...

If there's been a common thread in documentaries coming out of Ireland of late, it's how this nation has continuously failed its daughters. In the case of 'Nothing Compares', it's how Sinead O'Connor was blacklisted from the music industry and was held in a Magdalene asylum as a teenager. In the case of 'Vicky', it followed one of the worst scandals in Irish medical history and how it impacted one woman's life. For '406 Days', though it follows a labour dispute between workers in Debenhams and its liquidators in KPMG, the interviewees are almost entirely women. The pickets were almost exclusively manned by women, and the women themselves talk frankly about how they were ignored in talks and negotiations because of who they were.

'406 Days' records the events of the dispute with a direct, uncompromised view of things. It's the women who were on the pickets, telling the story of how it all happened in their own words and their own view. Many of them were workers with more than fifteen years of service, many of them talked about their jobs and their coworkers like family. They reared children and grandchildren together, celebrated marriages and commiserated losses, and all of it done while working there. The manner in which Debenhams alerted these workers to their redundancy is about as heartless as it gets, and as you watch '406 Days', you see exactly why this dismissive attitude sparked such fierce resistance.

Joe Lee's direction is ultimately piecing together the interviewees with the many news broadcasts and the footage captured during each of the pickets, using the day-ticker to illustrate where the dispute is and where people's emotions are at. The interviewees all recount the story with amazing clarity but also capture the odd idiosyncrasies that occur with something like this. One of them laughs about how she was afraid of falling through a roof, while another chuckles about having never broken into a place before. Someone else recounts with mock horror about a fellow striker who wouldn't shut up talking through the night.

Even though '406 Days' ends on a bum note, and we see the ex-workers standing in an empty store, you're left with the sure knowledge that none of them were defeated, but also that the government and the state utterly abandoned them to their fate. The final moments of '406 Days' shows the excessive force used to break the strike. Hooded men force their way into the stores at Henry Street in Dublin, with Gardai hauling elderly women away from the gates and sawing them open with machinery. In the end, the women stood their ground until the bitter end, refusing until the very last to move. '406 Days' captures this moment in Irish social history in sharp detail and preserves it for all to see.