Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Letter from Ireland

Ireland is a country much praised by neoliberal economists, paternership trade unionists and mainstream politicians in New Zealand as an example to follow. But the Global economic crisis is ripping the country apart, and points to how deep cuts and mass unemployment can radicalise workers, students and pensioners in a nation the same size as NZ. Irish socialist James O Toole writes for Socialist Aotearoa-

In the last week the Irish government has announced that it is about to undertake another round of cuts,this time amounting to close to 2billion euro .These new cuts come of top of last year's huge attacks on working people, students, pensioners and the unemployed in the Fianna Fail/Green Party coalition's budget.

Creches are closing down. Hospitals are like warzones. Cervical cancer vaccines for young girls have been canceled. Education provisions for the deprived Traveller community are to be cut. Fees are to be introduced in the colleges. Up to 2000 teachers are to lose their jobs. Now they want to cut 200 bus drivers and half our bus services (and all this with the so called 'Green Party' in coalition with the right). IBEC (the bosses union) is calling for far more vicious cuts on the public sector and are joined in this neo liberal chorus by most of the mainstream parties who accept, to a greater or lesser extent, the'logic' of the market.

This same week the government has also announced that it has nationalised the Anglo Irish Bank, a move which burdens the irish tax payer with a debt of up to 33 billion euro, and now there's talk of the nationalisation of two more of our biggest banks, Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Ireland. The government has already used half the 18 billion that was saved in the National Pensions Fund to re-capitalise the banks to maintain 'liquidity'. These massive debts, of the various banks, arose as a direct result of the insane logic of capitalism itself. The banks formed a tight triangle with the builders and the Fianna Fail party to stoke up a property boom. They borrowed vast sums on the international wholesale markets and then lent these out to fuel the property market. As long as the housing bubble lasted the banks and the builders made vast fortunes and re-cycled a small proportion back into the coffers of Fianna Fail. But when the bubble crashed, they ran to the government looking for a bailout. Of every 100 euro saved or invested in Allied Irish Bank, for example, 70 euro was re-invested in property.

Every day on the news there are more and more job losses, Ireland has gone from being the 'Celtic Tiger', an economy praised by neo-liberals everywhere,to being now described as the '4th Baltic state' (there have been riots in Latvia and Lithuania as a result of the crisis there). The Irish economy which saw huge growth year after year for a decade is now expected to shrink by over 4% this year. Dell computer's huge plant is Limerick has closed, Waterford Glass went into receivership and the Grocery chain Superquinn is to lay off hundreds.These are just a few examples.

The response of the Irish ruling class to the job losses? 'Cut more' they say! Workers responses have been quiet on the industrial front (although there was a plant occupation by Calcast worker in Derry) but the severity of this weeks cuts will face the unions here with no choice but to fight. On the streets though since the last budget in Autumn 2008 the fight back has been amazing! In the budget the government attempted to cut off Medical Cards for the over 70s, which would condemn any elderly people, reliant on welfare to pay for their medical needs, to sickness and death but 15,000 pensioners marched on the Dail (irish parliament) in what was one of the most angry and radical protests we've seen. A line of cops had to separate the pensioners from 15,000 students who were marching over the issue of fees on the same day and who's arrival outside parliament was greeted with cheers from the old folks! When speakers from any of the mainstream parties attempted to take to the stage to calm down and patronise these grey haired protesters they were greeted with boos and jeers and had to leave. One of the Fianna Fail ministers was quoted in a mainstream paper as saying 'This is what a revolution looks like'.

A few weeks later the teachers organised a national demonstration against the obscene cuts in schools-70,000 teachers, parents and children marched. We haven't seen a demo that big since the 120,000 on Feb15th 2003 against the attacks on Iraq (you also have to remember that Ireland has a population of just over4 million to understand the gigantic scale of these demos).

There is an air of radicalisation going on. The working class may be stunned and slow to react on the economic front, through the unions etc but the growing anger against this crisis, the cuts are pouring out in tens of thousands onto the streets! 6,000 farmers marched in rural Donegal against cuts. 10,000 people marched in Galway city alone and then just in the last week or two we've seen thousands back on the streets demanding an end to the horrors inflicted uponthe people of Gaza. It's becoming normal to hear of protests of a few thousand in small towns that have never had a demo before.

On February the 4th all the Student Unions of Ireland have called for a massive demonstration against the cuts the title of which is 'Join the Revolution- lets build Ireland's biggest protest ever'. Join the Revolution...every day that phrase is making more and more sense to more and more people here.

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