A story of persistent public defiance during a time of global still: 406 Days traces the period former Debenhams workers spent manning pickets across the country from April 2020 to May 2021. This came about following an announcement that the retailer would close all of its stores in the Republic and file for liquidation in the early days of the pandemic.
Staff across the 11 stores were informed of the closures through a generic email, stating that their jobs were terminated with immediate effect. Demanding that liquidator KPMG honour the redundancy payment package promised to workers by Debenhams in 2016, the strike by former employees was sustained for 406 days, making history as the longest industrial relations dispute Ireland has witnessed to date.
Directed by Joe Lee, and produced by Fergus Dowd, who also co-authored Tales from the Debenhams Picket Line, 406 Days took home the ICCL Human Rights Award at the 2023 Dublin Film Festival, alongside the award for Best Irish Documentary and the Audience Award, as testament to its impact.
The documentary is told through a blend of short-form interview pieces, shot against the backdrop of quiet streets and a barren Debenhams shop floor, paired with media footage of key events as they unfolded in real time. The key success of 406 Days is that it never strays from its crucial pandemic context. The passion and conviction of each first-person perspective tethers the audience to the heart of the piece: power in the form of persistence and courage borne of community.
Though the eventual outcome for the strikers was unfavourable, the achievement of those involved radiates throughout this film. As a story of comradery and perseverance, it is preserved dutifully now in storytelling, waiting to be called up on as an example and source of future inspiration.
Words: Emer Tyrell
Director: Joe Lee
Release Date: May 26