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Vol. 74/No. 46      December 6, 2010

Ireland gov’t prepares
major austerity moves
EDINBURGH, Scotland—As the Irish government begins talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Union (EU) for a bailout of its banks, working people are bracing for a sharp assault on their standard of living. The loans the Irish government is seeking are estimated to be at least $109 billion. Only last May the EU and IMF loaned Greece $140 billion to avert a debt payment default there.

The Irish government was already planning major cuts in the budget prior to the announcement of the bailout. Among the measures under consideration are cutting the minimum wage by the equivalent of $1.36 an hour, slashing pensions by 5 percent to 8 percent, reducing welfare benefits, cutting the wages and jobs of thousands of public sector workers, and raising taxes. The Irish Daily Mail called it “the budget to fleece us all.” The London Independent expressed the nervousness of many capitalists in Europe, stating, “There is an awful suspicion that even these moves may not be enough: the fear is the whole thing could go into freefall. Although the authorities are taking desperate measures, there is as yet no widespread Irish feeling that stability is about to be achieved anytime soon.”

Some 20,000 students, a substantial turnout for a country of 4 million people, marched through Dublin November 3 to protest plans to nearly double university fees. According to the BBC, many wore T-shirts reading, “Education, not Emigration.” Unemployment stands officially at 13.6 percent, the highest of any country in Europe except Spain and Slovakia. For the first time since 1996, Ireland faced net emigration last year. The Irish government expects some 100,000 to leave in the coming four years. Most are recent immigrants from eastern Europe.

Thousands of workers are expected to attend a demonstration sponsored by the Irish Congress of Trades Unions November 27. Called under the banner “There is a better, fairer way,” this is the first major nationwide action the unions have called since 120,000 marched through Dublin in February 2009 to protest cuts in public sector wages at that time. Since 1987 the unions have participated in “national agreements” with the government and bosses’ organizations to set wage rates.

Ireland’s “Celtic Tiger” years of economic expansion in the 1990s were a product of export growth based on low corporate taxes and a credit-induced property boom. This collapsed in 2008 when Irish banks’ indebtedness to foreign institutions rose to 60 percent of gross domestic product. Most Irish banks are effectively under state control now and are again on the verge of collapse.

Ireland is the United Kingdom’s fifth largest export destination. Some $120 billion in loans are outstanding from UK banks to Irish businesses. An article in the Irish Independent commented on what this means for the United Kingdom. “There is no other European country that stands to lose more if Ireland’s economic problems worsen or the banking sector collapses,” it stated.

Many articles in the Irish big-business press have protested the loss of “Irish sovereignty,” mourning the end of the capitalist rulers’ illusions that the good days could be put together again. An editorial in the Irish Times asked whether this “was what the men of 1916 died for: a bail-out from the German chancellor and a few shillings of sympathy from the British chancellor on the side.” In 1916 Irish rebels led an unsuccessful uprising against British domination of Ireland.

In the face of this crisis, capitalist parties in opposition to the Fianna Fail government are making gains. The Irish Labour Party is Ireland’s most popular party now, with 32 percent support, according to a June opinion poll. Sinn Fein, the Irish nationalist party now in coalition with pro-British parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, is seeking to gain also. Gerry Adams, its president, has announced he will stand for a seat in Dublin’s parliament in the upcoming elections.
Related articles:
Capitalists ‘recover’ on backs of workers
White House lauds GM auto bailout  
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