Return to Recent Articles menu

Will water charges be the end of Jack?

Eddie McLaughlin

4 December 2014

A large crowd estimated to be around 4000 strong at its peak, attended the anti water demonstration in Dundalk on Saturday 1st Nov. The numbers attending were impressive for a regional town during a downpour, but more impressive was the scope of the demonstrators’ demands and the strength of feeling displayed. The protest was dominated by home made posters and self formulated slogans which exhibited the pent up frustration felt by many and the crowd did not stick strictly to its opposition to the installation of meters. Criticism was levelled at the barely concealed intention to privatise water supply and the corrupt nature of the body set up to facilitate the sale, Irish Water. There was general opposition to the imposition of austerity, the paedophile scandals, the bank bail out, the household charge and a myriad of other insults and punishments heaped on working people by a political elite that so far had ‘got away with it’. One recurring call was “We want our hospital back!” 

Significantly, all political parties came in for sharp criticism, including Sinn Fein, which in other campaigns had managed to speak out of both sides of their mouths so successfully they avoided criticism. Most impressive of all was the mood of the protesters who left no doubt that they had taken enough and that they were not prepared to give ground on this issue. Although union speakers were on the platform there was a notable absence of any significant organised trade union presence. 

As austerity has been enforced on working people the trade union leadership have refused to act, giving ground time after time. In some cases people had been convinced that the unions were not strong enough to act decisively but the reactionary statement by Jack O’Connor arguing that people should accept water charges has left many union members shocked and embarrassed at his obvious attempt to undermine the developing and highly successful mobilisation. 

In the mobilisation planned for Monday the 10th November the term ‘organised’ labour cannot be applied. Workers are being asked to take action as individuals while the leaders of their organisations sit on the fence and refuse to organise industrial action in defence of working people. 

It is a disgrace that the trade union leadership should stand aside from their members struggles in this way and a greater disgrace that socialist organisations refuse to confront them on the issue. They should be called for what they are, traitors to the working class. Workers pay in to the bloated coffers of Irish trade unions with the belief that they are contributing to a fund that will be used support a fight back in defence their interests. It has become patently obvious that the fund maintains a reactionary conservative bureaucracy who consider it their own and who are divorced not only from the needs of the wider working population but also from the needs of their membership.

The trade union bureaucracy have not only refused to fight but have openly taken the government side, accepting the rigours of austerity and the terms of the Fiscal Stability Pact and arguing within its restrictive financial parameters. ICTU long ago washed their hands off the household and water charges and Jack O’Connor’s latest interjections are simply an insult to union members. 

The massive water mobilisations, so unnerving for Jack O’Connor, serves as a practical lesson for trade union members who are tired of a leadership that is bound hand and foot to the needs of Irish capitalism. A network of local groups involved in practical direct action not inhibited by anti union laws and a self interested bureaucracy has lead to spontaneous large scale mobilisations based on solidarity. Our organisations are dominated and controlled by a bureaucracy that will remain forever motionless unless we draw the lessons from the water campaign and organise ourselves independently across all unions and begin to rebuild Irish trade unionism in the tradition that Connolly and Larkin would recognise. 

Return to top of page