June­–July 2015        

Right2Water conference:

A good beginning: But we need to win the water struggle first

Anne Traynor

In mid-June the five trade unions at the heart of the Right2Water campaign called a second conference, drawing activists from the five unions as well as those opposing water charges in the communities and the political parties involved in the Right2Water campaign.
     The conference was in two parts. In the first section the delegates broke up into a number of workshops to discuss a draft consultation paper presented by the trade unions, titled “Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government.”
     About 150 delegates were in attendance, the overwhelming number coming from trade unions and the communities. The workshops reflected the different sections of the draft document: fiscal policy; workers’ rights; the debt; TTIP; the European Union; rights and equality, and a new form of democracy—local, national, and in the work-place; and public ownership of natural resources. It was also proposed that any future progressive government would actively promote national unity, based on policies aimed at maximum economic, social, political and cultural co-operation between north and south, and to oppose sectarianism and promote working-class unity.
     Each workshop was encouraged to limit possible amendments to two, and each convenor is to submit a written report of the discussion at their workshop, to give the organisers the opportunity to draw upon the widest experience.
     A number of amendments were adopted in relation to using the term “equality.” It was suggested that this term has been hollowed out by the establishment and is now virtually meaningless, as everyone is in favour of “equality,” and that the term “egalitarian society” was a better reflection of where the movement needs to go.
     It was also proposed that any future progressive government would commit itself to holding a referendum on membership of the EU if TTIP was adopted and imposed by the EU. The workshop dealing with this issue suggested removing any reference to a referendum from the draft, though this was not the unanimous view of the workshop. When it went to the floor of the meeting the amendment was overwhelmingly rejected.
     Positive amendments to the draft regarding a repeal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution and asserting women’s right to choose was adopted with only a small number opposed. All this was done in a positive and respectful way.
     There was a call for full trade union recognition, for the right of workers to be represented by a trade union, and for the repeal of the anti-worker sections of the Industrial Relations Act (1990) and other anti-worker and anti-union legislation.
     It is planned to have a “road show” to travel to all cities and large towns over the next few months to allow people at the local level to take part in the development of a political programme and to debate and shape the way forward.
     While a very positive start has been made, laying down a foundation for a more radical approach to political action by a number of trade unions and community organisations, it is obvious that we have a long way to go. The first thing we need to do is to secure a lasting victory regarding water, and this requires an amendment to the Constitution to guarantee the public ownership of water. From there we can build a movement committed to more profound radical change.
     The divisive approach of sections of the ultra-left did not openly manifest itself at the conference; but they continue to push points of division, for purely electoral advantage, rather than develop the points of unity and to build from there. They seem obsessed with the idea that people are only serious about water charges if we follow their strategy and their front organisations. They have yet to understand that Right2Water embraces those who opposed the installing of water meters, those who refuse to register, those who have registered but have not yet paid, and those who have paid—for whatever reasons—but are still opposed to water charges.
     This approach has broadened the front of opposition and narrowed the capacity of the state to break the movement. This has been its real strength, and is not a weakness, as the ultra-left try to present it.
     Different political forces—both left-sectarian and left-opportunist elements—are attempting to capitalise on the water movement for purely electoral gain. What these two currents have in common is that they wish both the trade unions and the communities (which also represent workers) to remain passive in the political process: give us your vote and let us do the rest.
     Community and trade union activists need to learn from their own real experience, to beware of the siren calls of electoralism. That is where the ruling class wish to drag all politics: into the institutions and procedures created and controlled by them. This is the ground they control and are most entrenched in and are sure of. They want all politics confined to the invisible iron cage within which it must operate, structures for protecting the system, in which representatives perform like monkeys, either in the Dáil or the talking-shop of the EU Parliament. They don’t like the politics of the street, or a mobilised politically aware people: they cannot then control the territory on which the people’s struggle takes place.
     The CPI distributed copies of its submission to the conference, which is an edited version of its recently launched Democratic Programme for the 21st Century. The party believes that the lesson to be learnt from the water struggle is that the government can be defeated and an actively engaged movement of working people can be built, that through the course of the struggle people have learnt lessons and have grown in confidence.
     People have begun to make connections between the struggle for water and other serious social and economic problems, as well as developing an understanding of the possible consequences of TTIP, the anti-democratic nature of the debt and its consequences for their communities, and the role of the European Union.
     The first step is to maintain the unity of the Right2Water campaign, to defeat the government and the EU on water charges, and to prevent privatisation by enshrining in the Constitution a guarantee of public ownership of this vital natural resource.
     The conference was a positive start; but we have a long way to go if we wish to end the domination over our lives by the economic and political forces represented by the EU, the United States and Britain and to truly establish for the first time a sovereign, independent, democratic and egalitarian republic of all our people.

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