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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.
This poses a serious challenge to those opposed to water charges.  How do we translate broad public sentiment into a movement that can actually stop them?  It is the need to address this critical question that was the impetus for Socialist Democracy writing this pamphlet.  While we don’t claim to have all the answers or a magic formula that can create a successful anti-water charges campaign, we can identify the key political and organisational issues that a serious campaign needs to address.  Although this inevitability means criticism of existing campaigning groups, we do not set ourselves in opposition to them.  We are part of the broad anti-water charges campaign.  Our fundamental demand of that campaign is that it be democratic; that it be a forum for debate and discussion that can critically examine its own statements and actions.  In the struggle against water charges, which is seeking to mobilise tens of thousands of people, a democratic structure and culture are essential.   It is necessary to win their confidence and support and also to respond to the issues and questions that will be thrown up in the course of that struggle.  The campaign needs to be dynamic and adaptable.  A campaign based on the assumption that everything about the struggle can be pre-empted and decided upon long in advance will not be democratic.

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.



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