Monday, February 23, 2009

The March of the Masses

Saturday saw the biggest mass gathering of angry citizens and workers in recent memory who collectively marched in protest against the government's approach to the economic crisis. I wrote in my last post about the inequity of the proposed pension levy on public sector workers, and the turnout for yesterday's march organised by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) showed the level of emotion felt by many in both the private and public sector.

The INO group gathering at the Garden of Remembrance

Jan and myself set off at 6:00a.m. for the 130 mile trip to Dublin for the afternoon march, preceded by a morning joint Labour Party/PES (European Socialist Party) Summit in Dublin with the theme "The State of the Nation". It was inspiring to hear such committed speakers offering valid and viable solutions to the crises we are mired in and depressing to hear how abysmal our fiscal reputation has become in international circles, we are a notch above junk bond status and our interest rate on borrowings is over 2% higher than that paid by more stable economies like Germany, such is our perceived risk.

Can you read the poster held by one of the INO staff? Not very complimentary on "Sherriff Brian"!

The march was led by the recently laid-off Waterford Crystal workers who have been told their pensions may be no more, despite having paid for years into a pension scheme or, for those laid off a few years ago when the Dungarvan factory closed, invested their redundancy money into shares, and the newly redundant may not even get decent redundancy pay.

SR Technics also fronted the march, they are the workers from former Team Aer Lingus who have been told their jobs in aircraft maintenance are going from Ireland - not to a low pay country like somewhere in the Far East, but Switzerland! That is just unbelieveable, that Ireland loses jobs to a non-EU country with a higher standard of living than here. I don't know too much of the background to this story, but it showed the solidarity between those in the private sector and the public sector that they marched together in what the government had been spinning as a protest by the greedy public sector against paying a fair share when many are losing jobs. We are the last handy scapegoat, I guess.

I was with the INO (Irish Nurses Organisation) group and we were there in good numbers; totally it was estimated that between 100,000 and 120,000 marched. Jan marched under the Labour Party banner, along with Jane, another Lismore member. The mood was upbeat and the sense of anger palpable, but there was no violence like that which marred some marches a few years ago, nor was there any sense of hostility from the bystanders, which was great as we were given to understand that the private sector would be no way sympathetic to the march. It has got good international coverage as I have just watched it on Dutch TV.

Every trade union was represented from the teachers and nurses, gardai (police) of all ranks, the military, fire service, civil service of all ranks, and the umbrella unions like Unite who comprise a number of bodies It was heartening to see the diversity of the gathering, and there were marching bands and funky drummers keeping the spirits of the marchers going.

Two views of O'Connell Street with the Spire (a.k.a the Skewer by the Sewer or the Stiffy by the Liffey!) in the background.

Have a look at the photos on the Irish Times slide show which have some great shots of the day. I have some of my own photos up as well.

The banking scandals continue to take us by surprise, or the revelations are being drip-fed to us in the vain hope of off-setting an even angrier reaction - the latest on the blighted bank we are all co-owners of, Anglo-Irish, is that 15 of their clients each owe half a billion Euro (that's 500 million/€500,000,000 for those confused about the zeros and the difference between European and American billions.) Total owed by 15 people = 7.5 billion Euro. This bank was for the elite developers and fatcat clientele, not for the ordinary Joe Soap. There seems to be faint hope of that money ever being repaid, and given the plummeting value of assets held as collateral the true value of the debt may never be realised, with property plummeting as the bubble has well and truly burst.

A good vantage point from the Daniel O'Connell monument's angels!

All this puts the pension levy into perspective in the overall context of the state of the economy - it will barely register a blip on the national debt and yet it will have a hugely negative impact on those affected, spending power and disposable income will be way down and the knock-on effect of less buying will be seen in shops and businesses closing as they are each week, with more joining the dole queues. The cost of social welfare is skyrocketing, with every job lost resulting in one less contributor paying tax and costing the exchequer in payments and allowances, which will barely keep the recipient above the breadline, if not the poverty line.
The INO group arriving at Government Buildings and below, some of the posters on the railings of the National Gallery

I hope that there will be some positive outcome for the protesters, not least a rethink on the scope of the levy to include the higher paid private sector and semi-state bodies, and the president and the judiciary, who, by some arcane constitutional clause, are exempt. If there was a sense of fairness in the distribution of the pain then I feel there would be more understanding from the general public. If it was seen that there was genuine action taken against the perpetrators of the bust like the bankers and developers who have flouted protocol and procedure and gambled away the boom with our money, then the government could call in our patriotic duty with some justification.


Caroline said...

This also made the news in Australia!!

Jeannette StG said...

thanks for keeping us up-to-date - it's unbelievable what's happening with the air-fare maintenance workers!
I guess the stimulus-bill here in the US keeps people from demontstrating, but many lost their jobs here.

Rachel Cotterill said...

Good luck - is there any indication of whether 'they' are likely to listen??

Catherine said...

Thanks for your comments - it is great to get global feedback and to know that it made the news in Australia, Caroline, that is heartening, as we often feel we do something like this and it gets lost in the bigger news.
Jeannette, I know Ireland talks of a stimulus package for shoring up the banks and that is not well received when jobs are being lost in the private sector due to the property development bubble bursting and construction jobs going, and then hitting on the public sector to take the pain, especially the lower paid workers. Higher paid will still get bonuses, and the suggestion from opposition parties to cap executive pay at around 250,000 euro is being ignored. We are recapitalising the banks but have weak legislation so those who would be cuffed and led off the trading floor to do the perp walk of shame in the USA (like Enron) are high-tailing it off to their sun hideaways in Marbella or the Caribbean and refusing to show at the Public Accounts Committe which is a toothless tiger. So we need effective regulation, right now it is voluntary and self-regulation is the norm, a bit like having turkeys vote for Christmas - or Thanksgiving!
Rachel I hope the above answers your query - there is no indication of any reversal of fortune, the govt are not for turning on this one they say, though at the summer election they may regret it(Local and European elections are on June 5th). RIght now they would be hammered in the election. They do not get it that it is the unfairness we object to, not the fact that we all have to share the pain, but fairly.
We need a bit of Obama-like charisma here! Brian Cowan and co. are lacking in the competence department as much as the charisma one!

Babaloo said...

Hello Catherine! Just found my way here...
My husband was at that march as well, you might have crossed paths!
Oh, and you've got recipes on your blog - a woman after my own heart! :)

I'll work my way through your posts, it will take me a while.

Have a lovely Sunday - and a happy birthday! :-)

Anonymous said...

Been in Dublin myself, Catherine on behalf of TUI - a great day. But the Government's response was disappointing to say the least.

Catherine said...

Hi Babaloo and Felix - thanks for visiting and comments - what a coincidence that you were there, saw the TUI banners alright, they were near enough to the INO at some stage, the day was cathartic but no decent response, unsurprising coming from FF!
We will be out again tomorrow week 30th and goodness knows what joys April 7th will bring, there's mutterings of no tax relief on pension contribs.Not sure if they can do that.
I heard a talk from a former TUI guy , George somebody, he has stirred the proverbial over AVCs vs. PNS in the whole pensions thing, was on Prime Time one night, the unions are upset by it as they have to back the AVCs that the brokers were pushing - outcome is I see Cornmarket are doing a lot more comparisons that previously, where AVCs were the only game in town.
GOod luck and talk again in the blogosphere!