That tension between a radical grassroots and cautious leadership was obvious as union leaders tried to speak from a makeshift stage in front of Dublin's colonnaded General Post Office, but were interrupted by hecklers chanting "Strike!"
"We need to play our part in the growing movement of resistance across Europe," said Richard Boyd Barrett, a member of Irish parliament from a small socialist pressure group called People Before Profit. "And we have to bring this government down if they continue with this disastrous policy of austerity."
The government is trying to get Ireland's deficit back to 3 percent of economic output — the supposed limit for eurozone members — by 2015. Its deficit last year exceeded 10 percent, but this year is forecast to fall to nearer 8 percent.
Cuts and tax hikes already have reduced people's average net pay by around 15 percent from the Celtic Tiger boom days, and new annual taxes on homes and water are supposed to come in 2013. Unemployment sits near a 17-year high of 14.8 percent, a figure that would be far worse were it not for Ireland's tradition of emigrating worldwide for jobs.
Ireland is hoping for 2013 economic growth of 1.5 percent driven by the exports of the nearly 1,000 foreign multinationals based here producing goods and services, chiefly in computer and health technologies.