Mass march by Irish workers
WORKERS, MARCH 2009 ISSUE
Some 150,000 Irish workers – in a country whose population is half the size of London – filled the streets of Dublin on Saturday 21 February. It was the start of a campaign by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in response to the economic crisis and was the largest show of anti-government feeling in Ireland for over 20 years.
Beginning as a protest at plans for a pension levy on the public sector, the rally drew together all elements in the country shocked at the effect of the economic crisis and despairing of their government’s complacent response.
The march was led by the Dublin Fire Brigade band and other public sector workers including police and military trade unionists. Workers from other sectors turned out in force, such as those made redundant from Waterford Crystal and aviation contractor SR Technics.
Union leader Peter McLoone said Irish workers did not cause the economic crisis but were having to pay for it. ICTU has launched a 10-point plan called “There is a better, fairer way” setting out a plan for the country to tackle the crisis, including an end to the free market polices that placed Ireland in difficulty.
Far from being part of an “arc of prosperity” envisaged by Alex Salmond in 2006, Ireland is in danger of joining arc partner Iceland with a failed banking system. In the few days before the march took place, Ireland’s credit rating was downgraded and reports emerged of a 10 billion euro capital outflow ahead of a report into the nationalised Allied Irish Bank.
Irish workers are beginning to recognise that this crisis is different. The traditional response of emigration will not help, and unemployment will rise.
The ICTU says that there can be no return to the former policies of little regulation and reliance on tax breaks for multinationals. Despite a good level of productivity, Irish wage levels are low (22nd out of the 30 richest countries). Further wage cuts are unlikely to bring more jobs.
General Secretary Paul Sweeney said: “And if/when we resolve the crisis there can be no return to business as usual for Corporate Ireland: for the banks, builders and Government policies that combined to bring our economy to its knees.”
He went on: “This global mess was generated by privatised, deregulated and ultra-free markets. All countries, including Ireland, must now abandon this redundant economic model. However, ongoing commentary from many Irish economists demonstrates that most are still wedded to neo-classical economics, adhering faithfully to the theory of ‘efficient markets’. But the world moves on. The market is not working. It was not even working when it appeared to be booming.”