The group of young strikers were part of the march by some 100,000 workers, students, and retirees from around Ireland who braved wintry conditions November 27 to protest the governments recently announced austerity program. This mobilization organized by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) followed a 20,000-strong demonstration of students opposing cuts in education just three weeks earlier.
Hospital porter Brian Condra, 39, told the Sunday Business Post that Irish prime minister Brian Cowen is ripping this society apart. Hes destroying this country to protect the banks. Im already struggling. Im mad because I work for a health service and Ive seen a health service being dismantled.
The governments National Recovery Plan aims to reduce Irelands budget deficit to below 3 percent from 12 percent by 2014, and it places the burden of doing so squarely on the backs of the working-class majority already hammered by cuts and tax rises brought in since 2008.
The new measures include: reducing the minimum wage by one euro to 7.65 euros an hour (one euro=US$1.32); a 3 billion euro cut in the social wage over the next four years, including raising the working age to qualify for the state pension to 68 by 2028; an increase in value added (sales) taxes from 21 percent to 23 percent and their possible extension to basic food items and childrens clothing; and public sector job cuts of some 25,000, in a country where the official jobless rate stands at 13.6 percent already, more than double the rate two years ago.
The government plans to introduce an immediate 10 percent cut in the pay of all new public sector workers. The 124,000 retired public sector workers will also see their pensions cut.
At the same time, corporate taxes are to remain unchanged at the low rate of 12.5 percent. Prime Minister Cowen said, A low rate of corporation tax has been a cornerstone of our industrial policy since the 1950s and
is now part of our international brand.
Banks are bailed out, pensions wiped out
Handmade placards carried by demonstrators reflected the impact these anti-working-class measures will have. If people arent working, its hurting; Still turning the corner, from bad to worse; and Banks are bailed out, pensions wiped out were among the signs.
Mariead Hayes, chairperson of the Irish Senior Citizens organization, told Militant reporters how older people are being affected. Last year they did away with the Christmas fuel bonus, which represented 2 percent of our pension, she said. This year they have introduced prescription fees and a carbon tax and reduced optical and dental benefits. There will be further setbacks as our purchasing power goes down. Between 15,000 and 30,000 people also face house repossessions next year, as they fail to meet a new threshold: being able to pay at least 66 percent of the monthly interest on their mortgages.
An 85 billion euro bailout loan package for Ireland was agreed to by the European Union November 28. About a third of the money will go directly to Irish banks and the rest to day-to-day government spending. The Irish government itself will contribute 17.5 billion euros to the rescue package. The package is contingent on Irish government moves to strengthen its banking system; reduce workers wages, working conditions and benefits; and raise taxes.
The Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition government has already split over the crisis, with the Greens withdrawing from the government, though they have pledged to ensure the budget passes on December 7. This will mean a national election in the new year. Fianna Fáil lost a by-election in late November in Donegal to Sinn Féin, their share of the vote falling from 50 percent in the 2007 general election to 21 percent and leaving the coalition with a majority of just two.
All the opposition parties say they will vote against the budget, though none proposes any road forward for working people. The labor officialdom is also firmly mired in saving capitalism. ICTU president Jack OConnor promoted the slogan heading up the November 27 march: There is a better, fairer way. OConnor told the rally, The time frame for the economic adjustment is too short. It should be extended to 2017.
John Douglas, general secretary of Mandate, the main union for retail workers, said the protest was justified as its members on minimum wage faced a pay cut. People need an occasion to vent their angst about whats happening, he said.
Caroline Bellamy contributed to this article.
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