Saturday, November 7, 2009

Demonstration against cuts hits Dublin's streets

ABOUT AN hour before yesterday’s march against public service cuts kicked off, the Socialist Party’s Joe Higgins was huddled in the doorway of AIB at the top of O’Connell Street. Two rainbows that had arched over the avenue minutes before had faded and he was now taking shelter from a steady flow of rain. A man who rallied so hard against the banks was seeking a refuge of sorts beneath a bank’s tall, grey walls.

He was worried the weather might keep people away and prevent a good turnout. But by half two the rain was gone, the sky was a vivid blue and thousands had assembled at the Garden of Remembrance to express their anger at the government. It wasn’t just public sector workers and union members that had come. Resident’s associations from Dolphin’s Barn and Ballymun stood alongside nurse and teacher’s unions. Traveller groups mixed with political parties.

Well-known faces, too, made their appearance. Ambling beside the nurses, Senator David Norris expressed his concern over what he saw as the dismantling of supports for the most vulnerable in society. Fellow Senator Ivana Bacik appeared on a bicycle. “Ivana!” he called and they became engrossed in conversation about Seanad business. Amongst the different banners and chants, they all had a common goal: resist the cuts at all cost.

And then there was the anger that threaded them together. The health worker who wanted the government to “stand up and listen” and pay for its own mistakes. The Dolphin House resident who said if the government implemented severe cuts they could “go to hell”. “One, two, three, four, we don’t want you anymore,” chanted scores of people, reminding Brian Cowen that his government is among the most unpopular in the history of the state.

It wasn’t only the government that came in for attack. SIPTU itself became a target when a man wearing a T-shit with “SIPTU sold me out” written on it confronted the head of the march and directed a verbal attack at the union. He claimed that after exposing the abuse of workers where he worked he had been let go and no one had fought his corner. A tub of yellow paint in his pocket was to have facilitated revenge against one union head until he was persuaded otherwise.


But even despite the discontent, much of the demonstration had the air of a rowdy carnival. The piercing wail of whistles and the infectious beat of kettle drums filled the air in proclamation of what they claimed was a “better, fairer way”. Such was the din that one marcher complained of not having earplugs. Banners, of every colour and size, ranged from the satirical to the vitriolic. Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan were depicted as Laurel and Hardy on one placard. On another Cowen was the grim reaper.

Some people had other reasons than protesting for being there. One enterprising poet stood by the footpath tying to sell copies of his work. Another two men stood with placards warning that “soon the whole world will be brought bankrupt to usher the reign of the anti-Christ for three and a half years”. “One third of mankind will be killed,” said one of them. Wage cuts were the least of his worries.

The sun was hanging low above the National Gallery as the stream of protesters came to a halt in Merrion Square, an hour after setting out. Out of huge speakers Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changing” and John Lennon’s “Power to the People” provided the soundtrack for the disillusioned group. Gardai estimate that 30,000 people assembled, the ICTU 70,000.

When ICTU president Jack O’Connor took to the stage to make a fiery speech, the crowd was roused further. “They didn’t think you’d turn up and you’re here to tell them otherwise,” he roared, his voice thundering around the square. With ICTU General Secretary David Begg and Senator Joe O’Toole to either side of him, he embarked on a blistering attack on the government and the wealthy.

“That five per cent that have more than they could spend in ten or a hundred life times are prepared to contribute nothing and thus far our government is accepting that. And that is an absolute disgrace,” he yelled to rapturous applause.

After his speech, David Begg and Patricia King spoke for a short while, but without anything like the same intensity and anger. In half an hour it was all over. And then the people slowly filed out of the square as “Power to People” blared out of the speakers once again.