November 2014        

Water charges:
The government can be defeated

Eugene McCartan

The turn-out of more than 100,000 working people on 11 October, followed by the national mobilisation on 1 November, in which approximately 200,000 people took part in local protests around the country, shows that the Right2Water campaign is growing in strength and is drawing new forces into resistance against the water charges.
      The campaign is broadening the base of resistance and has rocked the Government and the political establishment.
      Credit is due to the coalition built by the five trade unions leading the Right2Water campaign—Mandate, Unite, the Communications Workers’ Union, the Civil, Public and Services Union, and OPATSI (the Plasterers’ Union)—but also to the militant self-organised local resistance in many communities around the country. This is a rare moment, and the potential of this growing alliance must be built on and not damaged by narrow political sectarianism and opportunism.
      The scale of the demonstration in October was not the result of any coverage in the state-controlled RTE or the corporate media. There was an almost total media black-out leading up to the mass demonstration. The press conference called by Right2Water was attended by RTE and other media, yet nothing appeared on the television news and little in the newspapers.
      While the trade unions set the date and organised for the day, 100,000 working people, largely non-union, responded and descended on the capital.
      This union-led campaign has created momentum and breadth for the development of this mass mobilisation and has provided a broad umbrella for a whole range of forces and individuals that the left could not reach or that have been alienated by the past actions of certain ultra-left elements. Leaflets and other materials were distributed through the trade union structures to shop stewards and section committees. More than half a million leaflets were distribute in a matter of weeks throughout the country.
      It is clear from the budget that was announced in Dáil Éireann a few days after the water march that the Government is in panic mode, cobbling together some concessions on allowances and the like.
      Irish Water, established by the Government to oversee the installing of water meters and the collection of charges, has turned out to be a shambles. Many of those now running the organisation have come from the very bodies that ran the public water system into the ground in the first place. They have been shown to be all too eager to have their hands in the greasy till, with their outrageous bonuses and other benefits.
      What lies behind the imposition of water charges is the drive to commodify water and create a revenue flow, thereby establishing a market ripe for privatisation, Once this happens, under EU competition rules it is forbidden to have a “state monopoly,” so privatisation is an absolute certainty. Denis O’Brien is a significant shareholder in the company now installing water meters.
      Privatisation is the real agenda, as agreed under the “Programme for Ireland” with the external Troika of the EU, ECB and IMF, with the complete agreement and support of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Labour Party and the Green Party and as carried out in peripheral and Third World countries under “structural adjustment” schemes.
      If we are to build on the last mobilisation then we need to continue to broaden out the campaign against these charges and to involve more trade unions, community groups, pensioners’ organisations, and others. The campaign must continue to narrow the ground on which the Government can manoeuvre against the growing public anger and resistance.
      The greater number of people are opposed to water charges because they know full well that it will lead to privatisation, and that private corporations will control the very means of life—water. People are aware that if water is privatised, every time they prepare a bottle of milk for their child or a cup of tea or coffee, or simply have a glass of water, some corporation will make a profit.
      The building of this coalition on the central demand of the right to water can place it at the heart of political struggle in the next general election. A victory on the water charges will be a clear rebuttal of the Irish establishment but more importantly a significant rebuttal of the EU and IMF.
      Water charges are the direct result of the bank bail-out and the imposition of the anti-people illegitimate debt upon the Irish people by the external Troika in connivance with the Irish establishment. The Irish people are to carry the burden of a massive corporate debt and to pay more than €8 billion in interest charges alone every year just to service this debt.
      We need to go further and raise the demand for a constitutional amendment that will enshrine the public ownership and control of water, to be developed and used in a sustainable way, and make it impossible to be privatised. The current talks between the EU and the United States on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will make this demand even more urgent.
      Pressing the demand for an amendment to the Constitution of Ireland offers the left an opportunity to present a positive, forward-looking, progressive approach, rather than how the mass media want to portray it, as constantly negative and with no alternative to offer.
      This is the only way to protect the public interest at this time from the grasp of profit-hungry corporate raiders. It can provide an opportunity to present a positive way forward and bring the struggle to the Government and away from the narrow “double taxation” argument.
      Raising the demand of a constitutional amendment has the potential to open up the debate about the nature of the economic system that gives priority to profits above all else, above the common good and the protection of a precious resource and of the environment.
      We need to politicise this issue so as to develop the people’s genuine anger into a wider political opposition to the economic and social priorities being imposed by the EU and facilitated by all the main political parties. This would also expose the crass political opportunism and electioneering by elements of the left.
      The demand is for the right to clean water, the abolition of the water charges, financing the provision of water from general taxation, and guaranteeing public ownership by constitutional amendment, thereby preventing Governments in the future from attempting to introduce charges and privatisation.
      This is the experience from successful radical struggles in Latin America. We have to develop the people’s anger into a conscious political resistance. It was this strategy that successfully led to transformative political change in Bolivia. There can be such a moment in Ireland if we successfully broaden and politicise this campaign, rather than narrowing the focus for short-term electoral opportunism, which has already alienated militant community forces.
      This is potentially the first major challenge to the mantra of “There is no alternative” since the present crisis began. We now need to start building for the next mobilisation, outside Dáil Éireann, on 10 December.

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