There were spectres haunting Dublin on Saturday, the fear of unemployment and of job cuts but more importantly the spirit of James Connolly and Jim Larkin the founding fathers of the Irish labour movement. It took two hours to get from Parnell Square to the final rally. 200,000 people, workers, their families and their kids, young and old, from all over the country, Cork, Kerry, Sligo, Donegal, the midlands and all over. And they were fed up: “why should we pay the price for these greedy b*******?” The fact is that the crisis in Ireland has generated a huge movement. Many people pointed out that they’ve never been out on strike or been on a demo in their lives, but then again we’ve never had this sort of situation before. Even members of the PDFORRA, the soldier’s organisation, were present.
It’s not hard to see why. Unemployment is now 326,000 and all over the country jobs are going over like ninepins. It was no surprise that the Waterford workers and the workers from aerospace firm SR Technics, where closure has been announced, were at the front of the march. The latter shows the depth of the crisis while the former shows the fighting spirit which has characterised the working class in this crisis.
What is clear as well is that demonstrations like this help to give the workers a sense of their own power. 200,000 is about 1 in 20 of the population. That’s like 15 million marching in the states or 3 million in Britain. The Irish bosses have been wrong-footed by the strength of the Irish workers’ response. The Irish bourgeoisie is very weak. It’s massively dependent on foreign investments and exports particularly to Britain, so much so that the volatility of sterling against the Euro is creating big problems in and of itself.
But the flip side of this is that the Irish working class has been greatly changed over the past years. Instead of emigrating to Britain or the United States for work, people have been “coming home” for years now, wages have gone up and to be honest people have more to fight for than ever before. The crisis puts all that at risk and people aren’t prepared to lie down and take it. The problem for the bosses is that to make all this money they’ve strengthened the working class. They’ve created their own gravediggers, as Karl Marx said.
The scandals over the last few days over the “golden circle” where the Anglo Irish Bank management lent €451million to 10 of its top shareholders to buy its own shares, only adds to the anger. Why should the working class pay for the crisis? It’s entirely of the bosses’ own making. That anger was reflected in the speeches by the trade union leaders. ICTU President Patricia McKeown, said “it was time for workers to demonstrate their power and if Government did not pledge to act on their behalf they must be prepared to deny them a single vote” (RTE news). David Begg of ICTU pointed out that “sooner or later – and he believed sooner – the whole banking system would need to be nationalised.” (Irish Times). The government is clearly under enormous pressure. But they are on the horns of a dilemma. Someone has to pay for the crisis, and you can be sure that the bosses won’t. So they are trying to appear reasonable, meanwhile everyone can see they are in a tailspin.
“In a statement issued this morning, the Government said there was a considerable amount in ICTU’s Plan for National Recovery that was ‘entirely consistent’ with its own agenda.
"In particular, it reflects the Government’s view that an integrated national response to the current crisis is not only desirable but essential if there is to be a sufficient impetus and coherence of approach to meet the scale of the challenge," the statement said.
"The Government recognise that the measures which it is taking are difficult and, in some cases, painful. The Government is also convinced, however, that they are both necessary and fair," it continued. (Irish Times).
The statement described the pension levy as "reasonable" and said it reflected "the reality that we are not in a position to continue to meet the public service pay bill in the circumstances of declining revenue". (Irish Times).
Given the strength of Saturday’s march and given the huge pressure that the trade union leaders are under, we can expect that they will be forced to go further than they perhaps intend. But it would be an absolute disaster to simply rely on the 10-point plan to save jobs and wages. We should demand of the trade union leaders that they fight for every job and for every cent. The banks should be nationalised under the democratic control of the working class. Any company threatening redundancies should be nationalised under workers’ control. We need a majority Labour government with a socialist programme. No excuses and no collaboration with the tweedle dee and tweedle dum parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.