In 2014, the government was forced to backtrack on water charges by the sheer numbers who came out on street protests. But they are playing a longer game and are not giving up on their wider plans to make us pay for – and eventually privatise – water.
One sign of this is the continuing battles over the installation of water meters. The mainstream media may not be reporting it but Irish Water is still trying to impose meters on unwilling ‘customers’.
It is perfectly obvious that the reduced water charge and the ‘conservation’ grant are only temporary little measures to get this government out of a mess. They want to hand their problem over to the next government to carry through the original project.
All of which makes it vital that we adopt a clear strategy to defeat these charges. There are a number of elements to a winning strategy.
KEEP UP THE STREET PROTESTS: Don’t fall for arguments about not ‘protesting for protesting stake’. Mass demonstrations help create a different public consciousness. They bind networks together and generate huge levels of confidence.
Think only of the difference between the mood of people before the first Right 2 Water demonstration and afterwards. It, literally, changed public opinion by helping to break a dispiriting mood of fatalism that is so actively promoted by the elite in Irish society. Within hours of the mass protests, people understood that they were not alone as individuals in their anger but had fused themselves into a movement that could bring change.
In 2015, we need to keep that spirit up. That starts with mass demonstrations on Saturday January 31st right across the country. We should come out in our thousands and show that we have the determination to take the fight to the government.
The Berlin Wall did not fall because of one or two demonstrations. It fell because activists knew that they had to escalate the street protests – not run them down and channel them into safe channels.
We should do the same and make January 31st be the start of another series of mass demonstrations in 2015.
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE: Bureaucrats, politicians and mainstream journalists are instinctively nervous at the sight of people power. They spread worries about ‘will it be controlled?’ or ‘will it be hijacked?’. Their aim is to push us back into our sitting rooms watching our master’s voice on television.
We take the opposite approach: faced with unjust laws made by politicians who systematically lie, the only answer is mass peaceful civil disobedience.
When they try to impose meters on your home, you have every right to stage sit downs and do everything to obstruct their efforts.
When a government refuses to listen after the people have spoken, we have every right to take peaceful measures to bring towns and cities to a halt.
We should not rely on a few brave individuals but involve the mass of people in actions that allow them to feel the strength of numbers.
DEMOCRATIC ASSEMBLIES: Activism in the 21st century will not be structured around a small committee at the top. From the global Occupy movement to the rise of the indignados in Spain, a new tradition of mass, participatory democracy is being forged.
There is a direct link between a strategy of militant, peaceful protests and grassroots democracy. The only way to sustain a mass movement is to open decision making structures so that all who are fighting and organising get to shape their movement.
This is why the anti-water charges movement needs to hold regular local assemblies so that everyone can debate strategy. And they should be followed up by regular national assemblies of the movement.
DON’T PAY: It is obvious. The main slogan of every Right 2 Water demonstration was ‘No Way- We won’t pay’. So we should take steps to carry it out.
Currently 33 percent of the population say they will not pay. Another 11 percent are not sure and a further 8 percent say they are unaffected. There should be a serious effort to promote non-payment when the bills arrive in April.
There should be assemblies of the anti-water charges movement where clear decisions are voted on about organising boycotts.
Here is where the government’s weakness works to our advantage. They have been forced to retreat on their threats to turn down water to a trickle. They have even made it clear that no sanctions will apply to most people who do not pay until much later – when a new government is in power. (Kelly’s legislation, however, contains nasty provisions to allow landlords deduct charges from tenants’ deposits. This is a cynical move to push up the numbers for payers.)
We should, therefore, promote an active boycott that will destroy the very foundations of Irish Water.
A PARALLEL POLITICAL TRACK: Enda Kenny was right about just one thing – the movement on the streets were not just about water charges. It became a movement against austerity and the political establishment as a whole.
This movement needs to find a political expression. But this does not mean substituting for – or weakening – the movement on the streets. On the contrary, that movement needs to escalate.
One lesson that we learnt very quickly in 2014 was to see through the argument of the Sinn Fein leadership that we should just wait for their party to enter government on a promise to abolish charges. When that same leadership decided to return their Irish Water forms and then – only after the Tallaght bye election – reversed that position, many smelt the sour scent of opportunism.
The majority of people who marched still want a political voice – but one that is in tune with their movement and will not sell out.
Parallel to the growth of the movement, therefore, there needs to be a coming together of the genuine left. In other words, a left that will promote full scale opposition to the government but also an alternative to Sinn Fein.
It should not seek to be Sinn Fein’s conscience or act as a balance with them if they try to form a government with any right wing party after the next election. Instead it should base itself on a strategy of people power and openly and honestly provide an alternative to a party that is promoting austerity in the North while opposing it in the South.
People Before Profit will be engaging with other forces on the left to promote such an alliance. We look forward to its coming into fruition in 2015.
If you agree and wish to get involved with People Before Profit, text JOIN to 0872839964