In your roles as general secretary and president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions you’ve called for a major march and protest on Saturday, November 27 – that’s the weekend after next. According to the SIPTU website, the plan is that the march will assemble at noon on the day, at the Civic Offices on Wood Quay in Dublin and march to the GPO on O’Connell Street.
The first thing I want to say about the march is: count me in. I’m only one citizen, but I’m hoping that on that particular day I’ll be one of a million citizens marching to make our voices heard.
I hope there’ll be a thousand banners, representing every strand of our people and our country. I hope it will be the most successful demonstration you’ve ever organised, a day to be remembered for years as the moment things began to change for the better.
But I hope you don’t mind also if I won’t be marching that day as a trade union member. I’m going as a citizen of a country whose leaders are not just out of touch, they seem to be entirely out of control.
We’re on the brink, it seems to me, of handing over the future of our country to entirely faceless bureaucrats because of the complete and total failure of policy over the past two years.
If we don’t stick together and stand together now, there may not be another chance for years to come. For that reason alone, it’s time for all of us, whether we’re trade union members or not, to stand up and be counted.
But I’m guessing you don’t just have trade union members in mind anyway. In your statement announcing the march, David, you said you’d be making contact with a number of other civil society bodies in order to ensure the November 27 demonstration reflected the real concerns across all of Irish society.
And Jack, in your statement you called on not just trade unionists, but “community activists, students and youth, the unemployed, the aged and those citizens concerned at the manner in which successive governments have destroyed the prospects of a decent quality of life for our people, our children and grandchildren” to attend the rally.
And you encouraged everyone who is “angry at the Government’s policy of bailing out errant and reckless banks and other financial institutions at the expense of working people and public services” to voice their support for an alternative economic and fiscal strategy. We need that. And we need it underpinned by a sense of vision and solidarity. That’s why it’s really important, if you don’t mind my saying so, that this protest must not be about pay and conditions.
And it must be open to everyone – especially people who have felt up to now they have had no voice at all. Or that their voices have been drowned out by the louder and more powerful voices of people who are better organised, like you.
None of us marched before or after the budget last year and I’ve always been ashamed of that (ashamed of myself, that is, for not protesting even louder at its injustice).
To be honest, most of us heaved a sigh of relief last year because, by and large, we didn’t fare too badly.
The only people who really suffered last year were very low-paid public servants because the 5% pay cut they got on incomes under e30,000 a year was savage. And carers and people with disabilities and lone parents and parents who desperately needed child benefit.
They all suffered – but they’re the ones with the little voices.
They’re the ones who don’t count because no one was willing to march for them. Hopefully, with this march, that will change for ever.
Hopefully this march won’t be just about those of us who are a bit better off looking after ourselves. There are three reasons we have to march.
First, we have to show the world how angry we are. We’ve been betrayed and let down. And that betrayal has meant that our kids, and their kids quite possibly, are going to have to carry burdens they shouldn’t have to carry. Anger, we’re told, is a poor substitute for policy. But the people who tell us that really don’t want us to be angry with them.
But we’ve got to maintain the anger because without it there’s every chance all this will happen again. We all know, in our hearts, that we’re stuck with austerity although actually I hate the way that word is used nowadays. We’re stuck with cuts in essential services and cuts in quality of life. We’re stuck with overcrowded classrooms and long queues for healthcare.
But we don’t have to be stuck with the political system that gave us all those things. The one thing we are absolutely entitled to – and that is being denied every day – is accountability. Accountability is the second reason to march – because accountability is the only way we can begin to guarantee that nothing like this will ever happen again.
And the third reason for marching is fairness. The two of you have campaigned for greater equality all your working lives. There is no doubt whatever that right now a more sustainable approach to working our way out of this mess would involve a commitment to greater quality in everything we do.
But in the immediate future, maybe the best we can hope for – certainly the least we must demand – is fairness. It looks as if our economy and our society is going to have to be rebuilt from the ground up. It won’t be done without everyone making a contribution.
AND it won’t be worthwhile doing if the end result is that the same people end up taking the cream again.
So marching for fairness means marching for a fairer tax system with the owners of wealth making a bigger contribution than those who have none.
It means all of us being willing to pay higher taxes on our incomes to provide and protect what is decent. It means each of us being willing to contribute to the growth of the economy by being more flexible in our jobs, by being willing to work harder without expecting more reward.
If students, for example, have to pay more for their third-level education, should third-level teachers be willing to give an extra hour of free teaching in return?
I really believe if enough of us get out there next Saturday week, we will be listened to.
A million Irish citizens marching for each other – students marching alongside pensioners, people with disabilities marching alongside nurses and doctors. If we could make that one big statement of solidarity with each other, laying aside once and for all the vested interests that bog us down, we could begin to change everything. All of us will know that nothing is going to change overnight – but we can also make certain that nothing will ever be the same again.
With best wishes...