May 2017        

Water charges: Working people need to be vigilant

Eugene McCartan

The water struggle shows clearly the important and central role of mass mobilisation by working people in defence of their interests. The struggle created a focus and channelled the deep frustration of working people over “austerity,” the bank bail-outs, NAMA, the savage cuts in wages, and deteriorating working conditions.
     A vibrant and dynamic coalition developed around what many believe was an achievable goal, the defeat of water charges. The emergence of Right2Water gave structure and direction to the developing mass movement, while the five trade unions involved played a central role in providing organisation, resources, and strategic direction.
     But at the heart of the struggle were the community groups, which blocked roads and prevented the installation of water meters, and the tens of thousands who marched and demonstrated.
     It was this alliance of community activism and trade union strength that created the political pressure on the ground that forced the political establishment and the European Union back. This strength was recognised, and opportunistically exploited, by Fianna Fáil to rebuild itself electorally. But these were not the only politically opportunist forces at work.
     Over the the last few months the establishment and the European Union regrouped and came forward with their counter-strategy, which Fine Gael pursued through the Dáil committee on water, resulting in the huge retreat and U-turn by Fianna Fáil. The establishment parties of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour have opened a back door to allow for possible future water charges, under the guise of penalties for those found wasting water, and have also agreed that all new houses and apartments will have meters installed.
     We know from previous waivers and allowances for domestic waste collection that these so-called allowances quickly disappear and full charges are imposed. The major demand of Right2Water—an amendment to the Constitution of Ireland guaranteeing the people’s ownership of all water resources—remains part of the Dáil committee’s recommendations. People need to put Fianna Fáil TDs’ feet to the fire to make sure they do not backslide on this crucial demand.
     We need to continue to mobilise at the grass-roots level to ensure that all those politicians and parties that stood in the last general election on a platform of abolishing charges and for a constitutional amendment are held to account. In addition, we need to demand that all charges pending against water activists be dropped and all convictions quashed. The state cannot be allowed to criminalise peaceful protest.
     The treatment of the Jobstown water activists now facing trial and possible prison terms exposes the vindictiveness of the establishment and their state and judicial system.
     The stacking or rigging of any possible jury in the forthcoming trial is so blatant as to be beyond belief. That no-one from Tallaght or no-one who has ever taken part in a water demonstration should be permitted to sit on the jury is nothing more than retaliation by the state against working people for having the audacity to challenge the Irish establishment.
     The message is clear: dissent will not be tolerated. Where stands now our so-called liberal intelligentsia?
     Equally, many of the trade unions that sat on the sideline during the last three years have a duty and responsibility to throw their weight behind the struggle to secure a referendum on the people’s ownership of water. The role of the Labour Party and in particular of Alan Kelly has been appalling and has exposed the bankrupt nature of the present leadership of that party. They can only salvage what little credit they have left with working people if they step up to the mark regarding public ownership of water.
     For working people this is not a time to feel that we have been let down but rather to measure how far we have travelled—how far we drove the Irish establishment and the EU back; to see that we have power in our numbers, in our organisation and in ourselves to effect change.
     The establishment will spin it as a victory for “common sense,” but this is not the case. Working people need to remember that laws in our society are nothing more than congealed politics. That is why workers have few rights but all the obligations, while employers, the owners of wealth, have all their rights protected and few if any responsibilities.
     The establishment have constantly tried to draw the people’s demands into the quagmire of Dáil procedures and committees, into structures and processes that they control. This is a tactic designed to negate the demands and will of the people and make them submit to corporate needs and power.
     The fight to win an end to water charges and a constitutional amendment is far from over. Working people need to keep up political campaigning and pressure. Through organised protests, we have made great advances, but now is not the time to stand back and watch parliamentary manoeuvring rob us of our victory.
     We have driven them back. We can now push forward and secure the people’s ownership of water. Unity is our strength; organisation is the means to bring victory.

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