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Vol. 73/No. 10      March 16, 2009

120,000 join union rally
against job cuts in Ireland
DUBLIN, Ireland—City center was brought to a halt here as some 120,000 demonstrators marched February 21 to protest pay cuts for public sector workers. Trade union members and others from all over Ireland, a country of 4 million, rallied to express their anger at working people being made to pay for an economic crisis they did not create.

Workers from the Waterford Crystal plant led the march. They were applauded by hundreds lining the route. These workers occupied the visitor center at the plant January 30 when 480 of them saw their jobs summarily cut. The sit-in continues a month later.

Most of the marchers were public sector workers, including refuse collectors, transport workers, health and clerical workers, teachers, and some soldiers. The march also included civil service managers and cops. The Irish senate has passed a pension levy bill requiring public sector workers to contribute from 3 percent to 9 percent of their gross salaries toward their pensions. Some 12,000 members of the Civil and Public Service Union struck for one day February 26 against the levy. Other public sector unions are voting on whether to strike.

Leaders of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), which called the march, set a tone of class collaboration, despite their speeches being laced with anti-bank and anti-big business rhetoric. ICTU general secretary David Begg urged the government to implement ICTU’s 10-point plan for economic recovery, called “There is a Better, Fairer Way.” Since 1987 Irish trade unions have participated in “national agreements” with the government and bosses’ organizations that set wage rates.

Many marchers wore T-shirts reading, “Fair Deal, not Raw Deal,” and carried thousands of placards with slogans like “Protect our jobs, not the bankers”; “7 bn bailout for bankers, 1 bn cut in health budget, it just doesn’t add up, minister”; and “Ireland Inc., is bankrupt and corrupt.” (1 euro=US$1.26.)

Some disagreed. Ray Coady, a construction worker from Waterford, said, “This social partnership is a waste of time. They want to break the public sector, then us.”

Unemployment is rising at breakneck pace in Ireland. The numbers out of work were up by 69 percent in 2008. The unemployment rate rose from 4.5 percent at the start of 2008 to 7.7 percent by November. Particularly hard hit is the building sector, where employment fell 16.5 percent, along with wholesale and retail trade and financial services. The number of immigrant workers shrank by 5,400.

Short time working is increasingly common. At the Dublin demonstration Jack Donnelly, a member of the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) and worker at a Kildare carpet factory for 46 years, said, “We’ve been on a three-day week since January 12, and we’re not the only ones.” In Tuam, County Galway, SIPTU estimates that a third of the town’s working population is now on a three- or four-day workweek.

The world capitalist crisis is hitting Ireland particularly hard. During the week leading up to the February 21 march, the media reported that capitalists moved up to 10 billion euros in funds out of Ireland in the wake of a banking scandal. A small country with none of the resources of the imperialist powers, Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” years saw higher per-capita incomes than any European Union country except Luxembourg by 2006. This was largely funded by export growth and during the past few years by a massive property boom and associated expansion of credit.
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