n 1978, PAYE accounted for 87 per cent of all income tax revenue. In the 1979 budget, the Fianna Fáil government imposed a special 2 per cent levy on farm produce, which was supposed to offset some of the unequal demand on the PAYE sector workers. The Irish Farmers Association launched a series of protests and the government removed the levy. When this was announced, several spontaneous protests took place, culminating in a call for strike action.
The ICTU leaders, no more militant then than they are now, refused to get involved in a strike, but they did support a proposal by the ITGWU to have a demonstration outside working hours. On 11 March, 50,000 people marched through Dublin, most of them calling for a general strike. The ICTU continued to oppose any strike action so the Dublin Trades' Council was called on to organise a stoppage on 20 March.
An estimated 150,000 or more people marched through Dublin on 20 March and other protests took place in thirty towns throughout the country, including a march by 40,000 workers in Cork. The march wasn't due to leave Parnell Square until 2.30 p.m. but had to start at 2.00 p.m. because the surrounding area was so clogged up with thousands of workers. At one point the march stretched up O'Connell Street, D'Olier Street, College Green, Dawson Street, St. Stephen's Green, Merrion Row, Upper Merrion Street, Lincoln Place, Westland Row, Pearse Street, Westmoreland Street and back to O'Connell Street, with as many as twenty to thirty abreast on most streets. Mai Clifford, the DCTU's first woman president, led the march, from which Congress leaders were conspicuously absent.