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Water doublespeak: When unity means division

On the 8th of January a meeting of the right2water campaign took place. The meeting agreed: 

  • That the trade unions would undertake a period of consultation.
  • That there was general support for all forms of protest provided they were peaceful.
  • That right2water "welcomed" a demonstration on 31st January that would be organized by unspecified groups.

Despite everyone welcoming everything this was in fact a dismantling of the campaign. The left trade unions have distanced themselves from mass demonstrations and any demands more specific than human rights. The left have ignored the trade union retreat and hope to retain the loose cloak of right2water to advance their own projects and build their own base. Sinn Fein feel free of any constraints and can go on to focus on advancing their electoral fortunes. 

However there were complaints of splitting and sectarianism. It was the Socialist party that took the fall - to some extent deservedly so as they had unilaterally set up "Can't pay won't pay" and linked it to their AAA electoral front immediately after the Dail vote on Irish water. They had also called a meeting to launch a non-payment campaign on the 10th of January.

That meeting attracted around 150 delegates. The was some attempt to discuss the politics of the campaign but, as it had been called to   organize around a single tactic other issues were ruled off the agenda, a   process aided by the apolitical, direct action attitude of some  delegates.

In advance of the meeting Paul Murphy of the Socialist party issued a statement refuting charges of sectarianism, saying that: 

“real unity is built through open discussion of differences, combined with common action”. 
He goes on to say:

Sinn Fein does not call for non-payment. Similarly, none of the trade unions involved in Right2Water currently call for non-payment. We think that’s a mistake and we hope they change their position, but we recognise their right to decide their own positions. 

...we are going to organise for mass non-payment, as we already have been doing with the We Won’t Pay campaign. We also want to go further in trying to build a national federation of groups who are for organised mass non-payment, in partnership with locally based campaigns across the state. There is no problem with doing this in      addition to active involvement in R2W”.
So Paul Murphy explains that they are not splitting and then outlines a process where a split takes place and everyone does their own thing!

Let’s follow the logic. The central issue for the SP is non-payment. The task is to approach the mass of the population in their homes, shopping centres and on demonstrations and convince them not to pay. On the other hand when the leadership of the trade unions and Sinn Fein, who have the support of large sections of the population - in the case of the trade unions the organised working class - oppose non-payment we are to shrug our shoulders and respect their position!

The idea that we should respect differences is an example of diplomacy between groups that puts their interests before the mass of the population.  The call from the mass of people at the December demonstration was clear cut – they want Irish Water closed down.  A campaign to do that should have been drawn up after the demonstration. Instead we are to have major sectors moving back, no attempt to build a  coherent national movement, and a focus non-payment in April in the hope that a long time in the future this will close Irish water.

The time to close Irish Water is now.  The reason no plan is being put forward is that no-one in the campaign is willing to look to closely at the ambiguous role of the unions and go over their heads to appeal to the workers who are being transferred from local authority to Irish Water. So much for giving the unions the right to determine their own positions!

We have had three mass demonstrations of 100 000 people. Yet another ad-hoc steering committee of 20 or 30 decides to row back the   campaign.  A few days later a meeting of 150 agree a non-payment campaign, ruling out any wider discussion.  Where have the 100 000 gone? When are they to be consulted?  What about the workers who are being drafted to Irish water with the agreement of their unions?

We will build a mass campaign not by respecting differences and building our own corner, but by going over the heads of reluctant leaderships to engage the mass of the movement.

What militants should be doing now is organising a mass petition for an open conference of right2water. They should use it to build a democratic, representative movement and to put forward a plan for closing Irish water right away through a programme of industrial action, mass action and civil disobedience.

Anything less runs the risk of seizing defeat from the jaws of victory.


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