From Derry to Sarajevo

The unemployed are on the march


by Conor McLoughlin
ATGWU Scheme Workers Branch
(in a personal capacity)

The unemployed and low paid are on the march. A European March against Unemployment, Job Insecurity and Exclusion has been called by a wide coalition of unions, unemployed and political groups. Eleven separate legs of the march will arrive in the centre of Amsterdam on the afternoon of June 14th, to coincide with a European Union Inter-governmental Conference.

There are 20 million registered unemployed in the European Union, 5 million homeless and 50 million living below the poverty line. Over 30,000 of them are expected to converge for the final rally. They will include a large number of anarchists from unions like the CGT in Spain, SAC in Sweden, the USI in Italy and the French CNT-F. Groups are marching from all over Europe, including the former Stalinist states of Eastern Europe and some marchers are coming from Tangier in Africa.

The march kicked off on April 14th with an enormous range of activities. These have gone from wacky stunts, e.g. a pair of used sneakers being offered to Jacques Santer to symbolise the fruitless search for jobs, to more serious political activity like the occupation of the job centre in the France town of Chambery to demand facilities for local unemployed action groups.

The Irish leg of the march is being put together by the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed. Despite the slogan on their newsletter: The unemployed speaking for ourselves, fighting for our rights" this organisation is in no way a mass organisation of unemployed workers. It is a federation of government and ICTU funded centres.

We do not for a minute wish to knock the excellent advice and services provided by these centres but these do not in any real way contribute to a serious fight against unemployment.

None the less an Irish leg of the march has been put together by them and it is hoped to send ten marchers to Europe. We will leave Derry on June 1st and march through Belfast and Dundalk (2nd), Dublin (3rd), Kilkenny (4th) and Cork (5th). Local Trades Councils have been written to for money and (unfortunately) private business (the latter coughed up a princely £2,000 between the whole lot of them). The marchers will also meet the Lord Mayor of Dublin and President Mary Robinson. Two members of the INOU executive will fly directly to Amsterdam while the marchers nurse their corns and blisters.

The INOU at a recent "orientation meeting" informed marchers that there had been occupations and direct action across Europe, especially in France; but that this was "part of their culture".

Funnily enough it's not too long ago since it was part of Irish culture too. In 1982 and 1983 a group of unemployed and union activists organised the People's Marches for Decent Jobs. These marchers joined pickets and supported factory occupations along their route.

Their demands included a 35 hour week with no loss of pay, occupation of jobs and plants threatened with closure, a decent minimum wage, and investment in useful public works like schools and housing to create well paid jobs. Needless to say they never met the President (but they did get to meet lots of people who wanted to fight redundancies and poverty).

We believe that the current march, though far from perfect, should be supported by workers and the unemployed throughout Ireland. It offers an opportunity to meet up with the more militant unemployed organisations and radical trade unions marching from other European countries. We all suffer from the demands of the rich to further cut wages and social welfare. Together we can start a Europewide resistance to the bosses' offensive.

You can help by writing to the INOU now and asking for a marcher (as opposed to an INOU full- timer) to speak to your union branch or community group; you can organise a collection; and, if the march is passing through your town, turn out to show your support on the day.