Will the campaign against the Water Charges be the Irish equivalent of Anti-Poll Tax campaign? Anne McShane examines the political situation after massive demo against in Dublin, on December 10th. This article was first published in Weekly Worker.
We are also posting earlier articles by Eddie McLaughlin (Socialist Democracy – Ireland) on the political fall-out after the demonstration in Dundalk on November 1st, and from eirigi on the political attack on socialists and republicans involved in the campaign against the water charges.
NO MORE THE VICTIM
Wednesday December 10 saw the third major demonstration against the attempt to impose crippling water charges on the population.
While the garda and Irish media announced that only 35,000 participated in the protest, it seemed to me that the organisers’ claim of 100,000 was nearer the mark – interestingly foreign media sources also reported the latter figure. And it was a militant event, with contingents arriving from across the country to join tens of thousands of working class Dubliners. Despite the government’s previous climbdown on the cost of charges, the vast mass of the campaign had refused to retreat. Those present represented many more thousands who stayed at home because of work or family responsibilities, or to defend their towns and estates against meter installation.
Central Dublin ground to a halt when the demonstration was prevented by gardaí from entering Kildare Street, the site of the Dáil. Side roads were blocked off in an unprecedented security operation and a stand-off resulted with gardaí at the entrance to Kildare Street. Then thousands of protestors of all ages defiantly occupied main roads and bridges, shouting slogans and refusing to move. The garda ‘public order’ unit surrounded demonstrators on O’Connell Bridge and rumours circulated on social media that street CCTV had been switched off. Later videos were posted showing assaults on the crowd and a number of arrests.
As well as the heavy police presence, the government had prepared a media counter-offensive. TDs announced from the encircled Dáil that the protest had been a flop. The fabricated attendance figure of 35,000 was reported as fact by Irish news broadcasts. We were told that the middle class had not turned out and the bottom had fallen out of the campaign. The government was apparently relieved that it was so ‘small’ and the charges would prevail. In an interview, health minister Leo Varadkar feigned astonishment that people were so upset over a mere €3 a week. He also expressed confidence that the struggle was over. It was strange Alice in Wonderland-like experience to have been on a huge demonstration and then hear news reports that virtually no-one was there.
Government supporter and billionaire Denis O’Brien eagerly facilitated the bogus coverage. His empire of radio stations, newspapers and other media have been pumping out an endless stream of government propaganda, aimed at vilifying protestors and demoralising the struggle. Even RTE, the state broadcaster, which prides itself on its objectivity, proved to be unreliable, complicit and even antagonistic. The upshot is a deeply cynical attitude towards the media and greater reliance on social media, where film footage exposing garda violence and intimidation by the hired thugs is freely available. Reports also continue to circulate of the continued blocking of water metering throughout the country. All of which would be little known but for social media. In fact if you relied on newspapers and TV you would think it was all over.
So there are major challenges facing the campaign. The news blackout and the government’s intransigence have created frustration. It was hoped that December 10 would be a turning point and many were convinced the government would be forced to back down. But the resolve and social weight of the state were underestimated. In this respect the Right to Water campaign is inadequate – its leadership seems to be firmly in the hands of Sinn Féin. The fact that Gerry Adams, who until a few weeks ago was publicly committed to paying the charge, was a main speaker at the rally was shameful. He has been seen by some as jumping on the bandwagon and his speech was drowned out time and again by “We won’t pay” chants. But in the absence of a coherent left alternative the Sinn Féin leadership are hoping to maximise their vote.
There is also the problem that Right to Water does not call for a boycott of the charges. It certainly does not openly support the blocking of metering and other direct confrontation of the state by local groups. RTW has called for another demonstration on January 31 to ‘finish off’ the government. However, as we have seen, demonstrations alone will not work. The government can organise its security and media coverage for one day and carry on as before. We need an organised working class movement that takes the state seriously.
I have argued that the Socialist Party in Ireland had been sectarian in setting up a separate We Won’t Pay campaign with individual membership, rather than intervening with local groups that are affiliated to Right to Water.1 There was a mixed response to my view, with some SPI members arguing that there was no possibility of intervening in RTW, as it has no organisation on the ground. However, now there has been a more positive move by the SPI to orientate towards the existing local organisations. Paul Murphy TD has headed up a call for a national meeting of local groups this weekend. His aim is to set up a national federation of non-payment groups. This would be a huge step forward.
He also made a call in his speech on December 10 for a new national political movement. For the movement to “sit down and discuss democratically the building of an umbrella of anti-austerity, anti-water charge, left candidates to stand in every constituency in the country at the next general election. Such is the political change that has come about because of this movement that dozens of serious, committed campaigners could be elected. Together we can transform politics in this country; together we can revolutionise society.”2
I believe that this call deserves the critical support of all involved in the movement. We do need to discuss politics and to make use of the general election which will take place either in 2015 or early 2016. There is huge cynicism towards political parties, but there is also a call for a new kind of political representation. My concern is that the SPI – like the failed United Left Alliance – is looking for lowest-common-denominator electoral unity. This could mean a very mixed bag of independents, some with very bad positions on issues such as immigration and a woman’s right to choose. The latter is a policy that the SPI is always ready to drop for the sake of ‘unity’. While it is important to stand for a new political alternative, we need to put forward principled politics on all questions. This struggle is not just about water. It is about how we are ruled and what alternative the working class can itself develop.
That debate must be had. The road to the conscious, collective supersession of capitalism is the key. This means a serious national debate on the programme for revolution in Ireland – a movement to educate our class and give it skills to collectively develop its ideas and organisation. We need to learn how to unite and build political confidence through the highest level of political discussion.
The core activists of this campaign are learning a great deal about the role of the state in upholding capitalism. Arrests and criminal charges against protestors are snowballing, and prison sentences are expected to be handed out this week for breaches of injunctions. Convicted protestors have been hammered with court costs – nearly €100,000 has been awarded to Irish Water contractors by the high court. Working class people in low-paid jobs or those who are unemployed are being intimidated at all levels.
The government is criminalising working class people and punishing them with the imposition of huge debts for standing up to the state – in facing down this new tax the working class is confronting the state head on. The logic of their resistance can be applied to all democratic social and economic questions – it is necessary to confront capitalism with an alternative programme and a class united to fight for it. No more should the working class be the victim.
This article was first posted at:-
also see earlier article by Anne McShane – The End of the Road for the ULA
WILL WATER CHARGES BE THE END OF JACK?
A large crowd estimated to be around 4000 strong at its peak, attended the anti water demonstration in Dundalk on Saturday 1st Nov. The numbers attending were impressive for a regional town during a downpour, but more impressive was the scope of the demonstrators’ demands and the strength of feeling displayed. The protest was dominated by home made posters and self formulated slogans which exhibited the pent up frustration felt by many and the crowd did not stick strictly to its opposition to the installation of meters. Criticism was levelled at the barely concealed intention to privatise water supply and the corrupt nature of the body set up to facilitate the sale, Irish Water. There was general opposition to the imposition of austerity, the paedophile scandals, the bank bail out, the household charge and a myriad of other insults and punishments heaped on working people by a political elite that so far had ‘got away with it’. One recurring call was “We want our hospital back!”
Significantly, all political parties came in for sharp criticism, including Sinn Fein, which in other campaigns had managed to speak out of both sides of their mouths so successfully they avoided criticism. Most impressive of all was the mood of the protesters who left no doubt that they had taken enough and that they were not prepared to give ground on this issue. Although union speakers were on the platform there was a notable absence of any significant organised trade union presence.
As austerity has been enforced on working people the trade union leadership have refused to act, giving ground time after time. In some cases people had been convinced that the unions were not strong enough to act decisively but the reactionary statement by Jack O’Connor arguing that people should accept water charges has left many union members shocked and embarrassed at his obvious attempt to undermine the developing and highly successful mobilisation.
In the mobilisation planned for Monday the 10th November the term ‘organised’ labour cannot be applied. Workers are being asked to take action as individuals while the leaders of their organisations sit on the fence and refuse to organise industrial action in defence of working people.
It is a disgrace that the trade union leadership should stand aside from their members struggles in this way and a greater disgrace that socialist organisations refuse to confront them on the issue. They should be called for what they are, traitors to the working class. Workers pay in to the bloated coffers of Irish trade unions with the belief that they are contributing to a fund that will be used support a fight back in defence their interests. It has become patently obvious that the fund maintains a reactionary conservative bureaucracy who consider it their own and who are divorced not only from the needs of the wider working population but also from the needs of their membership.
The trade union bureaucracy have not only refused to fight but have openly taken the government side, accepting the rigours of austerity and the terms of the Fiscal Stability Pact and arguing within its restrictive financial parameters. ICTU long ago washed their hands off the household and water charges and Jack O’Connor’s latest interjections are simply an insult to union members.
The massive water mobilisations, so unnerving for Jack O’Connor, serves as a practical lesson for trade union members who are tired of a leadership that is bound hand and foot to the needs of Irish capitalism. A network of local groups involved in practical direct action not inhibited by anti union laws and a self interested bureaucracy has lead to spontaneous large scale mobilisations based on solidarity. Our organisations are dominated and controlled by a bureaucracy that will remain forever motionless unless we draw the lessons from the water campaign and organise ourselves independently across all unions and begin to rebuild Irish trade unionism in the tradition that Connolly and Larkin would recognise.
This article was first posted at:-
THE STATE, THE MEDIA AND THE BATTLE FOR HEARTS AND MINDS
The battle against the Water Tax is largely a battle for the hearts and minds of the people. Indeed the same can be said for the wider struggle for meaningful Irish political, economic and social freedom.
The varied and deep injustices that plague our country exist because they are actively supported by one section of the population and tolerated by a much larger passive section of the population. And until now those who actively oppose these injustices have lacked the strength to effect real and permanent change.
The elite that have hijacked both states in this country understand the importance of media control and manipulation in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Irish people. They understand that people form their opinions on the basis of the information that is presented to them. If one can control the nature or flow of that information, or if one can manipulate and colour that information it is possible to effectively shape the opinions that people form. And by extensions the actions that they take.
To this end the state and private media on both sides of the border produce a never-ending diet of pro-establishment drivel. Talking head after talking head regurgitating the same tired old right-wing message. Generation after generation of politicians, journalists, economists and various other ‘opinion-makers’ echoing the group think of the ruling class.
Dissenting voices are virtually never heard. Think about it. Can you name five genuinely left-wing journalists or broadcasters that are in regular employment in any significant print or media outlet? Can you name even one? Come to think of it how often do you even hear a working class accent on the radio or TV? And when you do it’s invariably to reinforce one stereotype or another.
There is no ‘free media’ in Ireland, unless you are the likes of Tony O’Reilly or Denis O’Brien. What we have is an elaborate facade of media freedom. Granting the occasional two minute sound-bite to some progressive individual or other, whilst the supporters of the political establishment dominate the remaining twenty-three hours and fifty-eight minutes does not constitute a balanced or ‘free media’.
Understanding the nature of the media in Ireland will become critically important in the coming weeks and months as the battle against the Water Tax and the wider austerity programme intensifies. You can put the kettle on for the smear and black propaganda campaigns that will be launched to first divide, and then conquer the people power that is now on the streets. There will be many lines of attack as the establishment seek to create many fissures within the anti-Water Tax movement.
One line of attack will, without doubt, focus on the fact that republicans are part of a mass movement that encompasses hundreds of thousands of citizens. We republicans aren’t actually members of the community you understand – in fact we’re barely people at all.
We in éirígí are all too used to being portrayed as the bogeyman ‘dissidents’ to be feared and reviled in equal measure.
In 2006 when we answered the call for support from members of the local community to blockade Shell’s refinery in Mayo the Independent newsgroup accused us of being ‘outsiders’ who were ‘hijacking’ the protests. Nothing to do with the fact that we were loudly challenging the reality that private energy companies stood to make billions of euros from Ireland’s oil and gas reserves – your oil and gas reserves. Nothing to do with the fact that Tony O’Reilly, the then owner of Independent newsgroup, also owned the oil and gas exploration company Providence Resources. Of course not.
In 2010 we, with others, organised a series of events to highlight the perverse level of economic and political power enjoyed by the richest 1% of the population. When we organised protests outside the Shrewsbury Road (occasional) home of Denis O’Brien and Tony O’Reilly’s Merrion Square mansion we did so full in the knowledge that we were playing outside the rules of ‘acceptable’ protest – ‘acceptable’ to those who control the private media that is.
And now as we stand with our fellow citizens to prevent the private takeover of another one of Ireland’s natural resources we find ourselves demonised and ridiculed in media outlets controlled by Denis O’Brien. The usual mud is being thrown accusing éirígí of being a ‘rent-a-mob’, of ‘hijacking protests’, of being ‘trouble makers intent on infiltrating protests’ and so on and on and on.
Since 2006 our activists have consistently challenged the ruling elite that control the Six and Twenty-Six County states. When the Celtic Tiger was still roaring we were doing our bit to highlight the deeply unjust nature of Irish society. For the last eight years we have been calling for a popular movement to overthrow the ruling elite that have corrupted and poisoned our country. We don’t state these facts in search of praise, but to highlight our experience of how the political establishment and media respond to those who will not allow themselves to be intimidated or bought off.
The political and economic elite that have inflicted six years of austerity and decades of exploitation on the population fear the potential of the anti-Water Tax movement. They fear that a defeat of the Water Tax will unleash forces that they cannot control. They fear that those who have passively tolerated the status quo will now move to actively oppose it. They fear that a victory for the anti-Water Tax movement will embolden the demands and ambitions of the working class.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the people is set to dramatically intensify as the political landscape continues to rapidly evolve. And when the attempts to divide and conquer the anti-Water Tax movement begin in earnest it must be hoped that we will all have the good sense to remain united in the interests of a victory for the working class.
This article was first posted at:-