Introduction – The Campaign Against Water Privatisation
The prospect of the introduction of water
charges has undoubtedly struck a chord of discontent. To many the
proposed water charges are manifestly unfair and they justifiably oppose
them. However, it is also the case that this broad sentiment of opposition
has not deflected the Government from pursuing its agenda to “reform” the
Water Service, of imposing charges and making hundreds of workers redundant.
In addition to promoting a democratic campaign Socialist Democracy wants one that has a thorough understanding of the agenda behind water charges. For us that is the neo-liberal agenda and privatisation in particular. This is the ideology that underpins the programme of the New Labour Government. It produces not only water charges, but also cuts in education budgets, civil service redundancies, regional pay, PFI, foundation hospitals, and the outsourcing of jobs. Neo-liberalism is the motor behind the Government’s ongoing assault on public services. Its objective is to turn hospitals, schools, and utilities from providers of services to the public to generators of profits for business. The significance of water charges can only be understood if viewed as one element of this agenda. Rather than being an end in itself it is a prelude and a necessary preparatory measure for the privatisation of the Water Service. This is why the issue of privatisation must be the basis of opposition to water charges. A campaign that focuses too narrowly on the technicalities of charges risks losing sight of the broader and more important political principle at stake.
We call for workers in the labour movement to play the leading role in the anti-water charges campaign. It is the workers in the Water Service that will feel the most immediate affect of the Government’s plans to privatise the water service, with redundancies and downward pressure on pay and conditions. However, they are also best placed to oppose it. They have trade union organisation, and can take industrial action to stop privatisation. A campaign that was based on opposition to privatisation could also draw support from across the public sector. It could also provide the focus for a mass campaign of working people mobilised from the areas they live in.
What Socialist Democracy is advocating is a broadly socialist campaign although it need not declare itself as such. One that is democratic; opposes the neo-liberal agenda; and is based on and lead by the organised working class. We believe that such a campaign could successfully defeat the proposed water charges, and also lay the basis for a more generalised opposition to neo-liberalism.
While such a campaign does not exist, we hope that this pamphlet will help convince people of the need for one to be built.