Around 120,000 trade unionists and their supporters marched through Dublin on Saturday in defence of their jobs, wages, pensions and public services.
The massive national demonstration called by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was a display of anger at the government and employers’ attempts to put the full burden of the recession onto the backs of workers.
Particular anger was expressed over the millions made by bankers and a national corruption scandal.
Placards read ‘Down with cosy cartels’, ‘Ireland Inc is bankrupt and corrupt’, ‘Why no pay cuts for corporate swindlers?’ and ‘Charge the fat cats’.
The marchers were clapped and cheered by crowds lining the main streets.
There were banners and placards from both public and private sector trade unions from across Ireland, and pride of place went to delegations of Unite members occupying Waterford Crystal and SIPTU members fighting for their jobs at airport firm S R Technics.
There was a large delegation of fire officers and firefighters, members of SIPTU and Impact trade unions.
Trade union banners also included SIPTU health workers, Mandate retail and bar workers, TUI and ASTI teachers, Impact, TEEU, as well Dublin Trades Council and Labour Party banners.
News Line spoke to marchers as they assembled at Parnell Square.
Nurse Rosie Condra was with a SIPTU health delegation.
She said: ‘I’m here because of the banks getting 7bn euros for a bail-out while you’ve got one billion euro in health cuts, not to mention education, social welfare and pensions.
‘It’s striking that the people most affected are the vulnerable of our society.
‘Surely as a social welfare state we’re meant to protect these people.
‘Yet again we have the workers, be they public or private, paying the 7bn euros as a dig out with absolutely nothing in return.
‘The ICTU has a ten point plan and our present governent refused to negotiate, refused to listen to the social partnership.
‘I did think that the social partnership was worthwhile, that it was going to be for the common people of this land.
‘But it’s falling apart, it’s failed.
‘The government has refused to honour any prior agreement.
‘We’re protesting today. It’s funny how the compromise is one way.
‘We’re here because the fight is on. We are showing we are angry.
‘If it takes a general strike, that’s what we will have to do.
‘It’s the government that is pushing us into this position.
‘We need everyone united, to stand together and not let this government create friction and a two-tier system.
‘We need an honest good leadership that has a direction we can all work together.’
Care assistant Ruth Rothwell and security officer Lisa Carroll were with the same delegation.
Ruth told News Line: ‘I’m here because we are getting a cut in our money and over the pension levy.
‘We pay our taxes enough for our pensions. That’s the money we are relying on for retirement.’
Lisa interjected: ‘It’s a ridiculous amount of money to be taking off us.
‘We go out to work 12-hour shifts to give them back whatever money we earn.
‘If you’ve more than one family member working, they might as well be taking your house away from you.
‘There’s no incentive in going to work these days.’
Ruth added: ‘The unions have to go for an all-out strike – not just for a few hours or just a day but for as long as it takes.
‘This government won’t be voted back in.
‘We need a government that will look after the working people.’
SIPTU Dublin health branch secretary Jack Kelly told News Line: ‘We’re here to protest at the government’s policy – 900m euros have been taken out of the health services.
‘We’ve been told they are going to knock off temporary workers.
‘There are a serious amount of temporary workers in the health services because of the policy of the Health Service Executive over the past three or four years.
‘Also, there is an attack on allowances such as shift and travel allowances.
‘We’re also very angry at the government proposal to introduce a pensons levy.
‘It’s crucifying our members, who are on low pay and low pensions.
‘Some are retiring after 40 years on 50 euros a week from their health service pension.
‘This protest is just the start.
‘Our union is going to the ICTU Congress on Tuesday and we are putting a proposal to start a campaign of industrial action.’
Beaumont Hospital catering assistant Martina Patton said: ‘This is my first time on a march.
‘I’ve come to be with everyone to protest over the pension levy.
‘I’ve worked for years. Suddenly this has come along, which is a blow.
‘To me it’s just frightening whether you are going to have a job.
‘They are taking everything off us – our wages are being cut and our jobs are insecure.
‘It needs a good strike. People have to stand strong and fight the government and employers.’
Waterford Unite organiser Walter Cullen told News Line: ‘This is the third week of the sit-in.
‘Our members are as resilient now for what they are fighting for as they were on the first day.
‘The sit-in will continue until we get an agreement that is acceptable to our members.
‘We’ve had huge support from from all across the union movement – from America, Canada, Australia, the UK as well as France and Germany.
‘We’ve had a lot of financial support from across the trade union movement, as well.
‘800 of our members are affected by the decision to close the plant.
‘We are continuing to negotiate with the Irish government to find a resolution to maintaining jobs and manufacturing in Waterford.’
One of the Waterford Crystal occupiers, Unite member Maurice Power, added: ‘The sit-in is something we had to do.
‘First of all, it’s protection of jobs, protection of pensions.
‘We’ve been paying in for pensions for the best part of 30 to 40 years.
‘In Britain, pensions are protected by the government, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
‘The feeling is that the government has to step in.
‘They’ve bailed out the banks to the tune of 7bn euros. It’s time now to look after the workers.
‘The unions should campaign for the nationalisation of Waterford Crystal and if the government doesn’t help, the government will have to go.’
SIPTU TEEU section member and SR Technics worker Mark Kearney said: ‘We’re here trying to save our jobs and get the government to wake up for real workers.
‘We don’t know what is happening, we’ve been told 1,150 jobs are going – all skilled people.
‘All the contracts that we used to have with SR Technics are going to Zurich.
‘They are getting rid of Irish workers.
‘The union has to fight for our jobs.
‘Everybody should stop work. We need an all-out strike.’
Tara Street Fire station SIPTU rep, firefighter Bob Leggett, said: ‘There’s no leadership in the country.
‘There has to be a time when somebody has to own up and take responsibility for the elite few.
‘The Celtic Tiger certainly didn’t help the fire brigade or the public sector.
‘And the public sector seems to be the first crowd that is hit.
‘The government has increased our pension levy. We are now paying 15 per cent, which is 90 euros a week out of our wages.
‘There’s a lot of firemen who are married to nurses and teachers, so it’s a huge cut.
‘We all have to stand together and make a united front in the unions.
‘Unions together have to fight so we could be daunting to take on.
‘It has to come to a head soon and money has to be taken back from the people that have been creaming it off.
‘We can only take so much before we push back.’
The demonstrators marched past the Dáil for a rally at Merrion Square, where the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) general secretary David Begg accused a wealthy elite of ‘economic treason’ by destroying the country’s international reputation.
Begg called for the ‘golden circle’ who have been paid out 300m euros in a bank loans scandal, to be named.
He added that there was fear and anger throughout Ireland among school leavers, mortgage-holders and people finishing work without decent pensions.
He said: ‘There is fear about how to keep body and soul together.
‘There is anger then, 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.
‘There’s anger because our generations yet unborn have been mortgaged in order to keep this banking system together.
‘Your children and my children and our grandchildren will all have to try to deal with what has been laid upon their shoulders.
‘The best educated generation that we have ever had is effectively being put on the waste heap.’
The government angered workers by issuing a statement in advance of the demonstration to insist its cost-cutting measures were essential.
‘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 stated
ICTU president Patricia McKeown told the rally that ‘casino capitalism’ had brought the country to its knees.
She said: ‘It is a system I am told by some analysts which needs every so often to shake itself out.
‘Our message to this government is that Irish workers will not be shaken out in this system.’
She added: ‘We face a government which wants the workers who built the economy to now be the sacrifices while it protects and bankrolls those who wrecked it. We are not prepared to live in that type of society.’
Rally chair ICTU assistant general secretary Peter Bunting said: ‘Congress believes that all together we can get out of this situation, there is a better and fairer way.’