Faced with the prospect of bankers, bosses and bureaucrats looting their country, the working class of Ireland is as bitter as the weather.
Up to 100,000 people took to the streets of Dublin last weekend—the equivalent of 1.5 million marching in London.
A sea of union banners took over the capital in a determined show of defiance against the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Irish bosses.
Despite the snow, they answered the call from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. They came from all parts of the country and every type of workplace.
They were furious at the bankers and the bondholders who wrecked the economy. They were opposed to four more years of austerity budgets.
Unsurprisingly, amid the fury of the marchers there was also fear—for their jobs, communities, and their children’s future.
“Where do we go from here?” asked one young woman from County Clare, who was walking with her daughter.
“What happens now to me and to her?” she asked, indicating the little girl shivering at her side. “I don’t know, nobody knows.”
The European Union and the IMF this week decided on a £73 billion bank bailout—and that the poor and the vulnerable should be hammered further to pay for it.
The loan deal includes £17 billion that will come from the Irish government itself. To get it, the bankers will empty the state pension fund into their coffers.
And, since the pot doesn’t yet contain enough money, the government has decided to aid the process by raising the retirement age to 68 by 2014.
Ireland’s minimum wage will be cut by 13 percent and all households face a new £257 a year property tax.
Welfare payments, including jobseekers allowance and child benefit, will be cut by 5 percent. Some 25,000 public sector workers will lose their jobs.
Meanwhile, taxes on profits are to remain the lowest in Europe—at just 12.5 percent.
Pat Condon and his two sons Manus and Kevin came with a homemade placard that read, “RIP Ireland”.
The family are in the construction trade, but are now contemplating leaving Ireland to find work abroad.
“We came here today from County Waterford through snowdrifts and past three car crashes,” said Kevin. “Nothing was going to stop us. We want to be part of stopping the bastards doing any more harm.
“But Ireland is finished for us now, and we’re are looking at taking the boat to England. It’s heartbreaking.”
The Fianna Fail and Green Party government was on the brink of collapse last week but had not yet gone, so the march gave the people of Ireland the chance to vote with their feet.
Teachers and other public sector workers joined bus drivers and telecom workers to march next to unemployed people and pensioners.
Media predictions of violence failed to materialise and didn’t stop people demonstrating.
Mary and Liam arrived from Galway. They describe themselves as “ordinary Irish people” who have been stunned by what’s being going on.
“I’m a nurse and I’ve spent 15 years on the frontline,” said Mary. “I’d already got rid of the landline phone, and this week I’ve put a stop to the Sky television too.
“The budget is undermining everything we have. If we just lay down, we’ll be walked over.”
Liam added quietly, “It’s time for the government to go. That’s all there is to it.”
Deidre from the Finglas division of the Senior Citizens Parliament said, “We need to stand up to the bankers, but most of all the crooked politicians who have destroyed this country.”
Natasha and Joanne, two community workers from Dublin, agreed. They described the way the cuts are already hitting people.
“It’s tearing the life and heart out of local communities,” said Joanne. “And with worse to come, it’s going to kill off the services to the vulnerable.
“It’s been a very frustrating time. With all this happening you can feel like there’s nothing you can do.
“But today is different. Today we know we can do something to turn this around.”