Irish ministers are bracing themselves for a series of work stoppages as trade union leaders, buoyed by a massive turnout of 120,000 demonstrators in Dublin last Saturday, prepare to step up a campaign against government handling of the economic crisis. The protest march, which took 90 minutes to pass through the center of Dublin, was organized by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). It's general secretary, David Begg, told the throng, "A business elite has destroyed the economy and has not yet been held to account for it in any respect." Marchers demonstrated their opinion of government policy with placards that showed the faces of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen and his ruling coalition partner John Gormley superimposed over images of Laurel and Hardy. The march was initially intended to highlight opposition to a government plan to introduce a levy on the pensions of public service employees. But in a clear strategy aimed at emphasizing unity among workers, union leaders ensured private sector workers - whose pension values have been slashed in the crisis - were prominent in the demo. Workers from Waterford Crystal and aircraft maintenance firm SR Technics, where a total of around 1,500 jobs are being culled, marched ahead of the civil servants, prison officers, nurses, and teachers from all corners of the country. Speaker after speaker underlined how the "elite" among developers and the banks had escaped punishment for creating the financial mess and were being protected by the government while workers who had built the economy were being expected to make most sacrifices. ICTU President Patricia McKeown said, "We are not prepared to live in that society." McKeown accused the government of "putting two fingers up" to workers and she said that the time had come for Irish workers to demonstrate to the government the power they really held. "That power is today on the streets of Dublin, it is in industrial action but most significantly it is at the ballot box," she said. "If our government and the elected politicians are not prepared here and now to pledge that they will act now and act on our behalf and act on the proposals we have placed before them then you must be prepared to deny them even a single vote and to send that message out loud and clear." In a statement coinciding with the march, the government issued a statement defending its handling of the crisis. It insisted that its cost-cutting measures were essential. The statement said, "The government recognizes that the measures which it is taking are difficult and, in some cases, painful. The government is also convinced, however, that they are both necessary and fair."
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