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The Coalition’s water strategy:Hold fast to the privatisation agenda

25 November 2014

We should not hide from ourselves the fact that we have won a substantial victory and that the government has been pushed back and surrendered a lot of ground.

However we must recognize that this is a carefully planned retreat, not a rout. The government has moved back in good order to protect the most important aspects of its strategy and is planning to deliver a sucker punch down the road that will finish off the opposition. However the government are bound too strictly by the constraints of the Troika economic program. The measures that they have taken are too slight to buy off the working class.

That means that the phony war is over. There will now be a bitter struggle to defeat the movement against water charges.

What the government want to preserve is what we must tear down to win the coming battle. That's easily stated. They want to preserve Irish Water. They want to preserve the principle of individual payment for water and they want to obtain 51% of revenue from charges. If they do this Irish Water will be rated as an independent commercial company and the financial timetable of austerity and privatisation set out by the Troika will remain on course.

In hock to the banks

If they save Irish Water they will be able to unload to the company responsibility for the repair of a system they have recklessly allowed to rot away. The company will undertake a €6 billion capital works project. Given the limits on income and government subsidy they must borrow this money.

Once Irish Water is in hock to the banks and bondholders just how much will the lies about low charges and opposition to privatisation be worth? Do the government intend to rip out the water meters installed by their friend Denis O'Brien with our pension money or do they intend to continue installation in the expectation of future privatisation?

If we fight to abolish Irish water we will take the first steps to oppose the programme of sell-offs agreed with the Troika. While attention was fixed on water bills transport fares were increased and the first steps in Dublin Bus privatisation got under way.

The bus privatisation story is important. As with the water privatisation story it extends over many years. As with water it involved collaboration within the top layers of the Trade Union leadership - bus drivers were forced to vote over and over to agree the cuts that would pave the way for privatisation. 

Strengths and weaknesses

Now, as a wolf in sheep's clothing, SIPTU leader Jack O'Connor has shifted from frantic attempts to sabotage the mobilization to "support" that still asserts the need for individual payments.

SIPTU's volte-face is a tribute to the power of mass mobilization. It is also a challenge to the movement. Can it confront a corrupt bureaucracy and reach past them to mobilise  the organised working class?

In the battle to come it is important to examine the strengths and weakness of the resistance. The strongest elements, those that forced the government retreat, were the new elements of mass mobilization. The sheer size of the protests terrified the government. They were even more terrified when they realized that the mass petitions for change were accompanied by a threat to the capitalist order and that local organizations were willing to use civil disobedience to confront the Guards and prevent the everyday operation of the political system.

The weak points of the movement are the absence of a centralized structure to bring all the local movements into a common strategy and policy. The Right2Water committee is more a trademark than an organizational leadership. We have seen steering committees in past campaigns. They should be temporary structures to allow for a national conference and formal democratic debate and decision-making.   

It must also be said that the existing organizations have not kept pace with the new uprisings. Right2Water has carried on a lobbying campaign aimed at the government, but we have had the government's response. At this point the December 10th demonstration would have to end in the storming of the Dail. Short of that we have clearly reached the end of the road with lobbying. 

Socialist groups focus on non-payment. This is a valuable tactic but concentrating on a single tactic of non payment has proved disastrous in the recent past. Working class communities organization around water meter installation is also valuable, also a single tactic. All both tactics ignore the issue of the organised working class.

The case study of SIPTU is illustrative.   They supported Irish Water. Their first action was to represent workers inside Irish Water to demand the retention of the bonus system. They now want to join the Right2Water campaign.

Yet Irish Water was set up in negotiations with the unions. Workers were seconded from local government.  Council water workers have been subcontracted to Irish Water following negotiation with the unions. All the unions have to do is to demand that their members are returned to their contract with the councils and Irish Water will be no more. That's the action the campaign must demand. 

Mass Mobilisation

Many look forward to the next election and the chance to punish the coalition. Yet in the last general election we punished Fianna Fail. It did not help us. 

Once we accept what is openly admitted by the government - that the economic plan is dictated by the Troika - we can see that electing a new government within the narrow economic confines set by the Troika will change little - and added bells and whistles about a wealth tax would still leave us paying the banks and bondholders.

It is a thousand times more important that we build a movement on the streets and in the factories that rejects utterly the prospect of further theft of our resources and donations to the imperialist powers. 

Our movement must be more structured. It must democratically agree a line of march and move towards a positive working class programme that starts to act to develop and enforce a policy for water. 

The government, the bosses and the European powers want to take something we own, give it to a commercial company and sell it back to us. This is an attack on the working class by capitalism. The fact that water privatisation involves legislation to prevent the collection and storage of water from our own roofs shows that it has no connection with broader conservation issues and is simply an issue of class exploitation.

The alternative to decades of penury is working class organization, working class solidarity and building for a workers republic as a first step towards overthrowing the international mechanisms of repression and exploitation that rule our lives. 

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