Monday, 23 February 2009

From Iceland to Ireland: the streets are rising...

With Iceland gone down the drain, and the Latvian government having collapsed only the day before, the greatest circus in the world continued to ramp up its act, with the Irish looking set to host the next crisis of a capitalist system give every impression of entering its death-throes.

Also: An Phoblacht, éirigí, Socialist Party, this, this, and more

Never a people to miss out on a party, up to 120,000 people took to the streets in Dublin last Saturday, surrounding the Dáil (Irish Parliament) and closing the Irish capital down. [Dublin – it should be pointed out, has a population of only 1.2 million, and the Republic of Éire only 4.7 million. This is easily the biggest protest since the Iraq war.]

The protest, organised by Ireland's chief union body, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), was directed against the Irish government's planned austerity measures, increasing unemployment and the ongoing bailouts of failing banks.

The most odious of these is a proposed "pension levy" on public sector workers, the centre-piece of the Irish government's economic recovery package.
The Irish economy - the "Celtic Tiger" - was once a poster pin-up of a neoliberal economy in the EU mould. Ireland slipped into recession last year, however, a situation made worse by a collapse in the important building and real estate sectors, and it's now looking more and more likely that the balloning budget deficit is going to hit 9.5% of Irish GDP by the end of the year. As a result, unemployment is exploding - a record 326,000 people were claiming unemployment benefits in January, and the number is likely to reach over 500,000 by the end of the year.

But that's not all.

On top of the job losses, the hip-pocket political suicide which is the "pension levy" [more on which below] and a recession so wide you could drive a revolution through it, Ireland is also wracked with outrage at what the bourgeois media calls "the handling" of Ireland's banking crisis, particularly the scandals seeping out of the Anglo Irish Bank, which was nationalised last month after collapsing under the weight of its own bad debts.

Anglo’s former chairman, Sean Fitzpatrick was forced out last year after it was revealed that he secretly took out 87 million euros worth of personal loans form the bank, and he clearly wasn’t the only bad apple in the barrel. There are already links being made or suggested between the bank's failure and people close to Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen and the Fianna Fail government, including the Taoiseach himself.

So, to turn this all around, Cowen has cooked up a "levy" scheme aims to slug 350,000 public sector workers for between 1,500 euros and 2,800 euros (£2,500) each per year as the cost-cutting Cowen's finance-friendly response to the recession, in order to “save” about 1.4 billion euros (1.8 billion dollars) this year alone, with plans for
€15 billion in cuts over the next few years. And while Cunning Cowen talks of "saving" 15 billion euros to stabilise Irish finances, his government is busy pumping public funds into the banking sector, a fact which hasn’t escaped public scrutiny.

And there's the rub. In short: the government plans to recapitalise Allied Irish Banks and the Bank of Ireland by chucking €7 billion (that's about US$9 billion, about £6 billion, and something near AU$14 billion) into the fetid sinkhole of financial capitalism. Where's the cash coming from? Why, the National Pensions Reserve Fund, of course, a pretty package of cash (and a sovereign fund, to boot!) set up to pre-finance the pensions of public servants that retire after 2025. And what does Cunning Cowen do to fill the new financial black hole he's created? Why, he tries to make public servants pay a levy to recoup the costs. Brilliant!

The only problem apears to be that the Irish - despite the racist slurs and bigotry - ain't stupid, and they’ve just shown that in a 6-figure protest. And not the first, either, by all accounts.

ICTU leader David Begg said that the Dublin demonstration was "just the first step in a rolling campaign of action" to achieve a similar bringing to account of the country's bankers and politicians as the union-led protests that toppled the Icelandic government in January.

In fact, Begg apparently went further, calling for the nationalisation of the entire banking system, and ICTU president Patricia McKeown addressed the protest, ripping strips off the "casino capitalism that has brought this country to its knees.

"An economy cannot be built on shady financial deals, privatisation of public services and the ever insatiable greed of the very, very wealthy," she pointed out.

"But we face a government which wants the workers who built the economy to now sacrifice while it protects and bankrolls those who wrecked it. We are not prepared to live in that type of society," Ms McKeown declared.

So, the wombats raise our Waterford crystal glasses of whiskey and propose a health to the coming collapse of another stinking crooked government, and to the rise of people’s power, in Éire, Europe and across the world! Sláinte, agus beir bua!

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