Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bring out your unrest

Much to everyone's surprise, including the organisers, 120,000 people or so marched through Dublin yesterday in an "emotional and angry national demonstration over the Irish Government's handling of the economic crisis."

According to one report, the sheer size of the turnout meant it had to set off earlier than was planned, with the parade stretching the entire length of its mile route at one stage.

Hundreds more lined the streets of the city centre, many clapping and cheering, as both public and private sector workers came together under the banners of several trade unions for one the largest demonstrations ever seen in the capital.

The demonstrators marched past the Dail (Irish Parliament) for a rally at Merrion Square, where the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) general secretary David Begg accused a wealthy elite of "economic treason" by destroying the country's international reputation. "There is fear about how to keep body and soul together," he then told the crowd.

This is by no means the full extent of the fallout from the economic crisis. After Iceland, yet another government has bitten the dust, with the Latvian prime minister having resigned amid public unrest over his handling of the recession.

This, we are told, throws the Baltic state into political turmoil less than two months after his unpopular government launched an International Monetary Fund-approved austerity programme to avert a balance of payments crisis. An IMF mission is in the capital to review the programme's progress, and its findings may not be happy news for the young lady of Riga.

And, although there has been nothing in the headlines recently about Greece, the unrest there has not gone away. It seems to be entering a new dimension with the emergence of a "guerrilla group" called Rebels Sect.

It has been taking pot-shots at a local TV station, its second attack in less than a month. The group says that is had specifically targeted journalists because they represented a corrupt establishment and warned them that worse attacks would follow. "By attacking the channel, we are sending an ultimatum to all journalists," it says.

That is certainly and interesting development and points – perhaps – to a wider lack of appreciation of the fourth estate. No longer detached observers, they are seen as players – and as bad as the rest of them.

This and unrest in the French territory of Guadeloupe, where there have been violent demonstrations over low wages and living conditions, with at least one civilian killed, has had a senior aide to Sarkozy warning that many other countries risk seeing explosions of popular anger,

This is Henri Guaino, one of Sarkozy's inner circle of advisers. He has been telling Le Monde that without some commonly agreed rules on reasonable levels of protection and government intervention "more uncontrolled outbreaks of populism and xenophobia were likely".

"This crisis is already going through all the chapters of an economics textbook," he says. "We should be careful that it doesn't also go through a history textbook as well."

The UK, which has already seen unrest over the "British jobs for British workers" issue, may well be set to enter that textbook. Anarchists and anti-globalisation activists are plotting a mass demonstration against bankers in the heart of the City, for 1 April - the day world leaders arrive in London for the G20 summit. They are dubbing the event "Financial Fools Day" and are looking to cause mass disruption by blocking traffic and buildings.

Protesters hope to mobilise "anti fat-cat" sentiment among students and workers affected by the credit crunch as they demonstrate against the financial system, and are inviting activists to "set up camp" in London's financial centre.

If the Irish experience is anything to go by, they may well get larger crowds than they expect, especially as one anarchist blogger is claiming "inspiration" from Greece. With the G20 summit in London, this, he says, "gives us the opportunity to mobilise far larger than usual numbers on to the streets."

I suppose if they follow that inspiration to the logical conclusion, and they start taking pot-shots at journos, we could be in for some interesting times.