North of Ireland – Now the Water Wars!
5th October 2005
Almost unnoticed, as one form of struggle, in the shape of the republican armed campaign came to an end, the British administration announced a new, no-holds-barred offensive against Irish workers.
The announcement came in the form of a ‘State of the Union’ address by Secretary of State Hain. On the 21st September, following a speech announcing extra funds to placate Loyalist sectarians who were staging riots, he announced that the North of Ireland was costing too much and that public services were too inefficient and employed too many people. He announced that swingeing cutbacks were planned in Health, Education and local infrastructure and services. The spearhead would be water charges, to go ahead in 2007. These had been delayed by local opposition and by disorganisation in government – the service was so poor that it was in no condition to be privatised – the overall goal of the campaign.
To show they meant business, finance minister Lord Rooker announced on the 23rd that all public buildings, with the exception of the three main government buildings around Stormont, would be handed over to the private sector under Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals. A few days before control of water treatment facilities was quietly handed over to a private consortium. The consortium included Tyco International, some of whose bosses had just being jailed in New York for dishonesty!
The fightback is proceeding slowly and with difficultly. A number of local committees have been set up and talks are planned to try and unify a number of different campaigns. The problem is that none of the existing political and trade union organisations have any history of militant opposition to economic oppression and the political opposition, around republicanism, has collapsed. As has been the case throughout the history of the North, the sectarianism engendered by the state will prove a major obstacle to uniting workers.
What is however clear is that there will be a fightback and that this fightback is a major arena where new forms of working class opposition will be forged.
This article was written for Socialist