29 September 2010

On the National Protest Stroll

This afternoon saw my second visit of the day to Kildare Street as I moseyed along and joined in all the Trade Union-y fun and goodness that is today's EU-wide day of action and protest. The march began outside Anglo Irish Bank's offices on Stephen's Green, snaked down Dawson Street and finished up on Molesworth Street, possibly the shortest route a protest march has ever taken, more of a protest stroll really.

According to the latest news reports some 50,000 marched in Brussels, with widespread disruption in Madrid and other Spanish cities, Greece and elsewhere. Here in Dublin, despite this being an ICTU backed event, union support seemed conspicuous by its absence, with numbers in Dublin reaching 1,500 at a push.

Indeed a lot of criticism has been leveled at the unions for their half-hearted support, with almost no publicity appearing for this march and what little there was coming from political groups like The Socialist Party, rather than from the unions themselves as in the rest of Europe. While union leaders like ICTU President Jack O'Connor did speak at the event, it was interesting to see that a good few of the placards on display were as scornful of union leaders and the Croke Park deal (which ICTU ratified back in June) as they were of the government; Union leadership is perceived as being altogether too close to Fianna Fail's ruling aristocracy, and its hard not to see why.

Also interesting to see were the small groups of single-issue protestors along for the opening of the Dail, railing against issues from hospital cuts to the Civil Partnerships Bill. Disappointingly no-one had brought along any "Careful Now", or "Down with this sort of thing" placards, very sloppy work altogether.

All in all a bit of a damp squib really, certainly in comparison to the rest of Europe, or even our own national Day of Protest back in February 2009, when over 100,000 marchers stretched from Parnell Square to Kildare Street, possibly the last time the unions showed anything resembling true leadership.

Fintan O'Toole has argued that we are bred in this nation for servility and passivity, that over the centuries the rabble rousers, ne'er-do-wells and other troublesome miscreants that in other countries are the first to storm the barricades have instead emigrated when the going got tough, rather than staying behind and trying to change things. Generation after generation the best, the brightest, and the angriest have all left our shores until those of us left behind resemble little more than herds of docile sheep (I may be paraphrasing here a bit). With Ireland facing nearly the greatest economic crisis in the EU, the public response in comparison to Spain, Greece and elsewhere has been embarrassingly pathetic. Today's march highlighted our own weaknesses as a population, and unfortunately has little long term value beyond proving O'Toole's thesis.

Still, I'm glad I was there, even if it had no effect.

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