- Created: Monday, 22 December 2014 08:33
- Written by John Byrne
Ireland is seeing a massive upsurge in working class militancy and resistance to the Fine Gael/Labour government’s attempt to impose water charges on the nation.
The water charges are a double taxation that the government intends to extort from the Irish people, to help bridge the massive budgetary deficit incurred by the EU-IMF bailout of the banks and property developers. The Irish working class has taken a battering from the austerity measures brought in by this and the last government, with long-term unemployment rising to 16.4% at the height of the crisis in 2011; home repossessions, benefit caps and massive mortgage arrears are all part of the day-to-day plight of the people. The reduced unemployment figures the current government boasts of flatter to deceive when one considers that over 300,000 people have left the country in the last four to five years.
The current struggle against water charges echoes the campaign against the bin tax in the early 2000s which saw the state take out injunctions against and then go on to imprison 22 people for ‘obstructing the collection of rubbish by the council’. Today, even more so than in 2003, the working class has no option but to fight and, as with the bin tax, water charges are recognised as privatisation by the back door and a licence to increase charges year on year.
Although resistance to the proposed water charges has been on-going for a number of years the recent increase in mainstream media coverage began with the Dublin South West by-election. In a constituency that should have been a fairly safe Sinn Fein (SF) seat, the Socialist Party’s Paul Murphy won on second preference votes. This was in no small way thanks to his work and profile in the anti-water charge campaign. Commentators have noted that SF’s failure to win the seat may be a reflection of its new-found respectability in the mainstream and desire to be in government come the next election, which means while it is arguing against the charges in the parliament (SF deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald was expelled from the Dail chambers for refusing to leave when the Dail was suspended after a robust exchange with Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton) it has refused to advocate non-payment. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, along with other forces on the left – Eirigi, People before Profit etc – has been at the forefront of the campaign of non-payment.
On 1 November there was a mass rally in Dublin, along with smaller rallies in cities and towns around the country, with an estimated total attendance of over 200,000 people, a colossal proportion of the Irish population taking to the streets. The rally demanded the repeal of the proposals. In time-honoured tradition the government decided it was not the charges that need to be reconsidered; it was how they were proposed to the people that was the real problem (see the second Lisbon and Nice treaty referendums for what happens when the Irish people do not give the government the answer it wants).
On 14 November Joan Burton arrived in Jobstown, in the constituency of recently elected Murphy, to speak at the graduation ceremony at a local college. Upon leaving the event Burton was heckled and harangued by a massive crowd of anti-water charge protesters, a well-placed water balloon adding to her humiliation. While heavy-handed policing ensured she made it to her car, she was held up by protesters beating on her car and blockading her way for over three hours.
Video footage of the action revealed the Garda (police) doing what it does best, dragging elderly women to the ground, assaulting protesters (a photo of an Eirigi member appears on their website, bruised with his shirt half ripped off him) and attempting to terrorise and prevent this working class community from exercising its right to protest. It didn’t work. The following evening the Taoiseach Enda Kenny was attending an a book launch at the Lord Mayor of Dublin’s residence when he had to run the gauntlet of another crowd of angry protesters, where once again people were brutally attacked by the Garda.
Then on 16 November reports came in of two Irish water trucks burnt out in an apparent arson attack in County Cork. The next day the government and press, particularly national broadcaster RTE, began the counter-offensive. Joan Burton was given any amount of radio time to recount how: ‘children could have being seriously hurt by the mob’. ‘Well it’s not about water, is it?’ Enda Kenny told us. ‘Sinister elements’ are at play around the country (typical Free State shorthand for militant Republicans), according to Kenny, trying to scare people away from further protests which are beginning to escalate around the country.
Paul Murphy was fingered as the ring leader, accused of looking on ‘smirking’ while his gang of left-wing minions wreaked havoc around the city. Murphy for the most part has done well in the media refusing to back down or condemn the protests; although he has been drawn into a debate over what constitutes peaceful protest. This needs to stop; there should be no concession to the media or the government and their fake outrage, and there should be no limits placed on people’s resistance in an attempt to pander to respectable politics. As Eirigi closed a recent statement ‘Opportunist politicians who shout “Vote for me and I’ll abolish the water tax” cannot be trusted to deliver. The water tax and the wider injustices in our society can only be defeated on the streets by a mobilised working class and not in the Leinster House Assembly’.* This is a lesson that should be well remembered!
As we go to press local demonstrations are increasing in momentum and a national assembly is planned to take place on 10 December in Dublin.
* ‘First they came for us and then they came for our water!’ Eirigi statement September 2014
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 242 December 2014/January 2015