100,000 protest at economy in ruin

THE talk was about fear of lost jobs, of decimated pension funds and of unmanageable mortgages but it was clear from the weekend’s massive workers’ demonstration that the real fear among the trade unions was of a divided membership.

Much of the preparation and many of the placards printed for Saturday’s protest had focused on the public sector pension levy but it warranted only one brief mention in the rousing speeches of the union leaders who were keen to promote unity above all else among those split between state and private sector pay rolls.

Gardaí estimate the protesters numbered between 100,000 and 120,000.

The strategy hit a brief hiccup when the first of the marchers reached Merrion Square and a group of Waterford Crystal workers leapfrogged the leading bunch of fire brigade representatives and sought to place their banners in front of the speakers’ stand. After initial resistance from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) stewards, they were allowed through and later, joined by soon-to-be redundant aircraft maintenance workers from SR Technics. Their plight became a focal point for the expressions of anger about an economy gone to ruin and the “greed, incompetence and complacency of a small group of well-heeled and well-connected” who sped it on its way.

ICTU president Patricia McKeown urged voters to use their one indissoluble asset and ballot the Government out of office at the next opportunity.

“You cannot build an economy on cute hoor financial deals, on property speculation, on privatisation of public services and on the ever insatiable greed of the very, very wealthy.”

Roars of approval followed. A man with a placard bearing the slogan: “Tony Soprano come back — your mob is here” looked ecstatic with vindication.

ICTU general secretary David Beggs accused those who had shredded Ireland’s reputation of “economic treason”.

But he was careful to add: “There are 40,000 good trade unionists working in financial services and they are as much threatened by the same people who are guilty of this economic treason. The blame must not be put on those people. They are our comrades.”

He said the pension levy would be bad for the private sector too as it could provide an excuse to drive down wages across the board, and he ended with a plea for unity.

“Although huge efforts have been made to divide us one from another, the public from the private, in recent months, nothing we have experienced so far or anything which is yet to come, not any effort by business or the people who serve it, not any effort by any political party or government or any strategy by the media barons, not any adversity or trial we have to face, will ever succeed in dividing us from one another.”

Impact member, Danny McCabe, who travelled from Sligo for the protest, agreed with the sentiment. A worker in the ordinance survey with 38 years service, he said he was marching for all workers.

“It’s not just about the public sector. It’s about every worker in the country. We’re all in this together,” he said.

“I’m lucky — my children are reared and my mortgage is paid — but I have a son who has a master’s degree and he’s working as a butcher. Maybe he’s lucky to have it but I’d hope for more of a future for him than that.”

Waterford Crystal worker Jimmy Dunphy felt his future was already behind him. “I was nearly 40 years in the job and I get a message saying your job’s gone, go away.

“There’s a place for everyone here today — the Government is treating all working people appallingly.”

But for Dublin City Council housing maintenance worker Sean Whelan, it was all about the pension levy. Clutching his payslip, he showed how, after mortgage and loan repayments, he had e106.50 a week to live on.

“If the levy comes in, I’ll have e6.50, yet I’ve been turned down for the carer’s allowance and respite grant for caring for my mother because I’m employed. Employed as what? A slave?”

More in this section