Report on pre-budget protest in Dublin

I attended part of this demo, which the Irish Times described, fairly accurately in my view, as a “low key” protest.  I’d estimate 2-3,000 on the march, as compared to over 100,000 a year ago.  I missed the speechifying at the end,  as I was attending the afternoon part of the éirígí ard fheis.  I broadly concur with the analysis of J.M. Thorn below, which first appeared on the Socialist Democracy website.  I also attended the community sector’s ‘Spectacle of Hope and Defiance’ protest and will post up a short report on this in the next day or two.

by J.M. Thorn (Nov 28)

Last Saturday (26th) there was a protest in Dublin against the further austerity measures expected to be announced in the forthcoming budget. The protest was organised by Dublin City Council of Trade Unions, individual unions, community groups and various Left organisations. About two thousand people participated in a march around Dublin city centre to the GPO where they were addressed by a number of speakers.

The first speaker was former UNITE regional secretary Mick O’Reilly. His opening address set the tone for the whole event.  He started by noting that this was the first demonstration since the election, lamenting the fact that nothing had really changed despite the change of government and describing Ireland as a “one policy state”.   Mick then thanked the organisations who were supporting the demonstration; these included ICTU, Sinn Fein, the United Left Alternative and community groups.  He said that co-operation between these organisations over the demonstration was a microcosm of what needed to happen more broadly in politics.   Mick said that the message of the demonstration was that there was a need for a Plan B.  Austerity was not working – all it had succeeded in doing was to take money out of the economy and reduce growth.  Mick said that there had to be a change of policy.  He also highlighted the lack of democracy in the EU, pointing to the fact that a number of governments had recently been deposed without elections.  He said that proposals to Europeanise the debt would mean less democracy, and that democracy should not be sacrificed to save the euro.  Mick concluded by saying that the demonstration wasn’t a one of.  There would be further demonstrations, including one at the Dail on budget night.  In the New Year there would be efforts to bring various organisations together in order to build an opposition movement.

The next speaker was Eugene McGlone form ICTU. He said that the measures likely to be in the budget were a catastrophe and would give no comfort to worker, the elderly, students, the unemployed or mortgage holders. However, he believed there was an alternative; there was a “better fairer way”.   Eugene said that the leaking of budget details was a softening up exercise and what had been made public was very bad. He said that a VAT rise would take more money out of the economy at a time when disposable income was falling. He also highlighted possible social welfare cuts, including the energy allowance and child benefit.  Eugene noted that what  was absent in the budget leaks were any proposals to tax wealth – the burden of cuts and tax increases was falling on the poorest in society, it was a class attack.  Eugene contrasted this with the decision by the Government to pay out the unsecured Anglo Irish bondholders.    He said that the wealthiest in Irish society should be forced to pay their fair share, citing the fact the top one per cent of the population owned 28 per cent of national income. Eugene then came on to ICTU’s own budget proposals, which he said were based on investment, employment and growth.   Specific measures included a wealth tax; tightening up residency rules on tax evaders; taxing energy companies exploiting Ireland’s natural resources; and the introduction of a new 35 per cent income tax rates on people earning over €100,000 a year. Eugene concluded by encouraging everyone to get behind ICTU’s proposals. He was followed by Lucy Fey of SIPTU, who spoke about the Fair Deal for Cleaners campaign at the Beaumont Hospital. She also echoed Eugene’s calls for people to get behind ICTU’s alternative budget proposals.

The fourth speaker was Kathleen O’Neill from the community sector. She said that the Government was being deceitful when it dismissed the impact of cuts on the community sector. She said that there had to be an alternative to austerity that it should be based on social justice, equality, fairness and citizenship.  Kathleen urged people to defend community projects and protect the vulnerable.  he claimed that the Government had lost sight of the need for community cohesion and was pursuing policies that created a form of social apartheid. She accused the Government of waging a war against the poor and against community groups.  Kathleen claimed that the rising level of suicide deaths was a consequence of funding being withdrawn from community groups. However, it wasn’t too late; the community sector wanted to assist the Government with its budget. One suggestion here was a social audit of various polices.  Kathleen ended by urging people to support the community sectors own pre budget protest which would have “defiance and hope” as its theme.

The final speaker was INTO general secretary Sheila Noonan. She began by emphasising the message that “education cuts do not heal”.  She said that education services were being slashed – resulting in overcrowded classes; subjects being cut; and parents forced to make increased contribution from their own pocket. Shelia claimed that education cuts will also damage any economic recovery and increase child poverty. She concluded by appealing for children to be given a chance and for people to take that message to the Government.   Mick O’Reilly came back briefly at the end to remind people about the budget day demo. He also claimed that we were at the beginning of the creation of an opposition movement and that our task was to bring together ideas for a Plan B and to popularise an alternative to austerity.

Despite the rhetoric from the platform the mood of the demonstration was very subdued.  (The liveliest contingent was a group of Africans who were protesting over something completely different.)  The demonstration was also relatively small as, apart from the teachers, there was no serious attempt to mobilise from trade unions.  In this sense the demonstration was tokenistic. Worse than this, it provided cover to a trade union leadership that has already signed up for the Government’s austerity programme.  The message from the platform was that ICTU and its Better Fairer Way do represent an alternative that people should get behind.  Not only that, it is proposed (most explicitly by Mick O’Reilly) that ICTU be at the centre of an opposition movement that also encompasses Sinn Fein and the ULA.  This is a version of the popular front, with the broadest range of groups supporting the most minimal platform.  Of course the fatal flaw in this approach is that ICTU and Sinn Fein are not an opposition at all.  The trade union leaders’ support austerity and Sinn Fein are implementing similar polices in the north.  Any movement in which they were centrally involved would be hobbled from the start.  Of course the Socialist Party and SWP are fully aware of this and have made similar points in their literature.  But by associating the ULA with such a formation they are calling into question their own credentials and also the credibility of the whole left unity project.


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Posted on December 15, 2011, in Economy and workers' resistance, Irish politics today, Political education and theory, twenty-six counties. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Report on pre-budget protest in Dublin.

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