Tens of thousands of workers took to the streets across Ireland on Friday in a mass display of discontent with the policies of the Six and Twenty-Six County administrations.
In Dublin’s Merrion Square, SIPTU president Jack O’Connor said the labour movement in Ireland had always been asked to have regard for the “national interest” while the Dublin government made “a dog’s dinner of it”.
“What’s actually happening is that they’ve confused the national interest with the interest of the better off and the well-to-do and that’s a tragedy,” O’Connor continued.
He accused the Dublin government of being deaf to the interests of the great majority in society but “particularly attuned” to the interests of the top 5 per cent of the population.
At Belfast City Hall, UNISON’S Patricia McKeown warned workers that the next time they gather it would be on official strike action.
IMPACT, Ireland’s largest public services union with 65,000 members, has already called for a 24 hour strike on November 24. As teachers, nurses, civil servants unions are also balloting for action, there is a real possibility of a public sector wide strike on that date.
Further action was promised by many other speakers on Friday. In Limerick, Mike McNamara, the president of the Council of Trade Unions in the city, said: “People don’t have any other choice at this stage. They are faced with this challenge that most people never had to face before and, when all other tactics have been used in the past like going into partnership, going into normal dispute mechanisms, in extraordinary times we just have to resort to revolutionary procedures to get what we want off the government.”
Speaking after attending the rally in Dublin, Sinn Fein’s Mary Lou McDonald said her party had put forward alternative proposals “to bring us to economic recovery without attacking the least well off in society and cutting public services”.
Ms McDonald said the rallies were “a massive show of protest against the government”.
“The Government must listen to the voice of the people. More than 60,000 people came out today in support to say loud and clear that they will not accept Government attacks and a better and fairer way must be brought forward.”
Speaking after he attended the Dublin demonstration, eirigi chairperson Brian Leeson noted that Friday’s turn-out was a warning to those who wanted to implement cuts in public services, jobs and pay.
“It is clear from attendances at rallies across the country that there a lot of angry people in Ireland at the minute.
“They are angry that, as workers, they are being forced to make the sacrifices for the abject failure of the business class and the political establishment. They are angry that their jobs are on the line, their pay is under threat and their conditions are under question because a small group of wealthy people squandered the wealth that was created by working people.
“They are angry that the public services on which they and their families rely are criminally under funded and facing further financial deficits because the governments that misrule this country would rather bailout bankers and glorified gamblers.”
Mr Leeson said this anger must be channeled into “an organised movement for the defence of public services, jobs, pay and conditions”.
“Out of this anger should also come an alternative vision of how the Irish economy should be run - an alternative that places the public interests ahead of private greed.
“Union leaders have put down a marker by indicating that mass action by workers is the way forward - they must not retreat from this marker.”
Public sector unions and 26-County officials will resume talks next week on a way of securing 1.3 billion Euro in savings on the public sector pay bill.
ICTU general secretary David Begg said last night that it was very difficult to see how social partnership could survive if the Dublin government forced through its current proposals for the forthcoming budget.
Mr Begg told the rally in Dublin that Ireland was confronted with the choice of taking a brutal cut of 4 billion Euro upfront or trying to effect a more gentle adjustment over a longer period by reforming public sector practices.
“We know for certain that the first option risks collapsing the economy and is a guarantee of more job losses,” he said.
“Our alternative at least offers the possibility of preserving the social fabric of this society.”
A new 24/7 alliance representing frontline public servants such as nurses, gardai and prison officers will stage a further demonstration next Wednesday.