Water charges meeting in north Belfast – a snapshot of working-class concerns
13th June 2006
The campaign against water privatisation continued its policy of holding local meetings to organise opposition to the new water charges with a meeting in the Cliftonville area of Belfast on June 5th. The meeting had been called as a result of a local resident contacting the campaign. All homes in the area had had the second edition of the CAWP newsletter distributed and each home had received a leaflet advertising the meeting. Around 20 people attended the discussion, addressed by Joe Craig and chaired by Brendan Harrison, and there was a lively question and answer session covering many of the current issues facing the campaign and providing a snapshot of local views.
As has become the pattern of these meetings many questions were asked. Was there a possibility that metering would be a part of plans for water charges and would it provide a cheaper option – a way to avoid high payments? Many had thought that a new Stormont would be set up and that local politicians would reverse the charges, but that belief was rapidly fading and a number of people were aware that local politicians had agreed the outlines of the present privatisation scheme when Stormont convened the first time. There was genuine shock amongst the audience at the scale of charges that the government had lined up, both through water charges and through massive rates rises.
One surprising fact to emerge from the discussion was the level of non-payment in England. Apparently a sizeable percentage of people in England and Wales do not pay their water bills and the level of non-payment has led to proposals in the House of Lords that cut-off rules, that would reduce water supply to a trickle for non-payers, be reintroduced. The CAWP campaign puts its emphasis on a fight against privatisation rather than signing up thousands who will refuse to pay on the grounds that a political fightback is needed.
The experience in England and Wales shows that there has to be more than just non payment but a campaign that seeks to mobilize now against the whole idea of water charges and the privatization of water. This privatization doesn't just mean unfair charges but a worsening of the service itself and the loss of thousands of jobs.
A number of those attending expressed interest in forming a local committee and a further meeting and video is being organised. Hopefully this will mean an addition to the groups and networks that CAWP have helped to set up in other parts of the city.
The next CAWP meeting will take place on
the 29th June at Ormeau Library, starting at 7-00 pm.