Socialist Worker

Ireland shows the way to resist the recession

by Simon Basketter
Published Tue 24 Feb 2009
Issue No. 2140

Workers from the Waterford Crystal factory occupation led a 120,000 strong march in Dublin against the Irish government last Saturday (Pic: Paula Geraghty)

Workers from the Waterford Crystal factory occupation led a 120,000 strong march in Dublin against the Irish government last Saturday (Pic: Paula Geraghty)


Anger at the Irish government's response to the recession erupted onto the streets of Dublin last Saturday.

In the biggest demonstration in the country for decades, more than 120,000 people marched over the Irish government's handling of the economic crisis.

Over 300 workers from the ongoing occupation at Waterford Crystal led the march alongside sacked workers from SR Technics, an aviation technology firm at Dublin airport.

Public and private sector workers marched together. Farmers, builders and students all took to the streets.

One indication of the scale of the growing crisis in Irish society was the group of police officers who joined the protest.

Even the army's 'union' said they would refuse to be used in any strike-breaking.

The size of the march meant it set off earlier than planned. The entire route was filled with workers. Thousands lined the streets to cheer the protesters.

Elite

The demonstrators marched past the Dail (the Irish parliament) for a rally, where the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) general secretary David Begg accused a wealthy elite of 'economic treason' for destroying the country's international reputation.

Begg said, 'There is fear about how to keep body and soul together. There is anger because everybody knows that it is not our fault that a business elite has destroyed our economy and has as yet to be made accountable for it.'

The original focus of the protest was the government's attack on public sector workers. It had introduced a 'pension levy' – in reality a wage cut.

But the protest quickly became a national expression of anger against the government and the banks.

Placards read 'Down with cosy cartels', 'Ireland Inc is bankrupt and corrupt' and 'Why no pay cuts for corporate swindlers?'

Many joining the demonstration spoke of what the recession and the government attacks mean for them.

'This isn't a pension levy – it's a pay cut,' explained Dennis Walsh, a civil service clerical officer. 'I will lose a significant portion of my salary into the dark hole of a banker's pocket.'

Sean Whelan, a worker with Dublin council, said, 'I'm on a gross wage of 650 euro a week, and by the time all my reductions are taken out I take home 106 euro a week.

'Now with the government's levy and the credit card I have to pay off, I will be left with 6.50 euro a week to live on – chicken feed.'

Damien Buggy, a construction worker, said that people had finally found their voice of protest:

'I'm here to let the government know that people are hurting. I'm here to protest the unfairness of it all. I haven't lost my job but nobody is secure anymore. I would like to see this government fall.'

The government has introduced austerity measures at the same time as bailing out banks that have been embroiled in a series of scandals. This has enraged people.

And the inspiring factory occupation of the Waterford Crystal workers has shown people that they can fight back against the recession.

Action

The anger is now moving towards strike action. The union for lower grade civil service workers, the CPSU, called a one‑day strike for Thursday or this week.

Some groups of workers were expected to take unofficial action on the same day. Bus drivers were also set to strike this week.

There is a growing momentum behind calls for a national one-day public sector strike. Nurses, teachers and other civil service workers are all balloting for strikes.

There are now daily protests against the government from across trade unions and community groups.

National agreements between the government and the unions have been the bedrock of Irish industrial relations for years. Even in the boom years, Irish workers received little gain from these arrangements.

Now as the Irish economy tumbles all the talk of 'social partnership' sounds hollow.

Formally last Saturday's protest was built as a call for a 'social solidarity pact' with the government and the employers.

But the scale of the protests and the momentum for strikes mean the model of social partnership is dead.

Union activists are now throwing themselves into turning the anger against the banks and the government into wider and coordinated strike action to match the mood for a fight that clearly exists.


Waterford factory occupation spreads

'We were treated like a football team doing a lap of honour.' That was how Tom Hogan, president of Waterford trades council, described the greeting received by workers occupying the Waterford Crystal plant when they joined the march in Dublin last Saturday.

Support for the workers' occupation is flooding in from across Waterford itself and from across Ireland.

Tony Collins, chief shop steward at the plant, says the solidarity 'provides a massive boost for us'. Many people have donated money and food. The workers are maintaining the main furnace to ensure the factory remains viable.

The occupation could save jobs. The receiver is in talks with a US equity fund which looks set to retain 250 jobs at the plant.

Some 10 million euro have been put forward to cover redundancy payments. And the Irish government has said it will underwrite the company's pension fund if it is reinvested.

This week a delegation from Waterford was set to visit Scotland to raise support, while another group is to tour London.

Unite is the main union at the plant and is backing the occupation. If trade unionists in Britain build links with the Waterford workers, it can help inspire resistance here to closures and lay offs.

A second occupation in Ireland last week shows how the mood of resistance is spreading – and how it can win.

Workers at industrial diamond manufacturer Element Six in Shannon occupied their plant on Friday of last week.

Management attempted to introduce a week-on week-off system for up to 180 workers and a two-weeks-on one-week-off arrangement for a further 80 workers. This would have meant pay cuts of up to 50 percent.

The company is also seeking 70 voluntary redundancies on top of 150 previous job cuts.

Workers responded by occupying the factory. Within hours the company agreed to defer the introduction of the short time hours and enter into negotiations.

Build solidarity with the Waterford occupation – rush messages of support, invites for meetings and donations to Unite Hall, Keyzer Street, Waterford County, Waterford, Republic of Ireland. Phone 00353 5187 5438 or email walter.cullen@unitetheunion.com


Article information

News
Tue 24 Feb 2009, 18:21 GMT
Issue No. 2140
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