(en) Winning the Water War

Dr Groove (dr_groove@geocities.com)
Fri, 06 Jun 1997 12:01:35 +0000


A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

Winning the Water War from Red & Black Revolution No 3 http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2724/anpubdx.html

Ireland is famous for being a place where you =

can get all four seasons in the passing of one =

day. The predominant season here is the rainy =

season which extends through spring, summer, =

autumn and winter . The one thing we are not =

short of on this island is water. But then, since =

when did our 'leaders' or the authorities let the =

facts get in the way of further exploitation. =

Over the last three years in Dublin a battle has =

raged between the councils, trying to implement a =

charge for the supply of water and the people =

opposed to this policy. This is the story of the =

campaign against the imposition of this double =

tax. =

When the domestic rates were abolished in 1977 =

following the general election an increase took =

place in income tax and Value Added Tax. The =

money made from these increases was to be used to =

fund the local authorities, who had previously =

relied on the domestic rates for their funding. =

Central government was to pay a rate support =

grant to Local Authorities. This rate support =

grant increased until 1983 when the then Fine =

Gael and Labour government decided to cut this =

grant and brought in legislation to allow the =

councils to levy service charges.

So though people were effectively paying more =

taxes, less of this money made its way to local =

councils, so they were asked to pay more money in =

the guise of 'service charges'. Eighty seven per =

cent of all the tax paid in this country is by =

the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) worker. This is a =

massive amount of money especially when =

contrasted to the fact that many multi-national =

companies are attracted to this country for =

exactly the opposite reasons, because they have =

to pay relatively small amounts of tax. Put plain =

and simply the beleaguered tax-payer in Ireland =

has been getting screwed not once but twice. This =

is what made this campaign so important.

The Son of Rates

In the 1980's resistance in Dublin led to the =

scrapping of the first attempt to introduce a =

water tax in Dublin. Other successful campaigns =

took place in Limerick and Waterford. In =

Waterford also, around the Paddy Browne Road a =

gang of contractors who were cutting off non- payers were held hostage by residents and =

Waterford Glass workers.

In other counties the charges continued and by =

1993 the amount expected to be paid by a =

household varied from one county to another. The =

service charge for Kilkenny was =A370 per annum =

plus extra money for refuse collection while in =

the County of Cavan you had to pay =A3180 to the =

local council. In 1995 the service charges =

continued to rise with Mayo commanding an annual =

charge of between =A3205 and =A3235.

The Water-Charge is Born

The writing was on the wall that a new charge was =

about to be levied on the people of Dublin when =

on January 1st 1994 Dublin County was divided =

into three new County Council areas. Fingal, =

South Dublin, and Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown were =

created and they all had to strike a rate which =

they would then be charged to each household for =

the water service. The existence of three new =

areas made it easier to administer the charge on =

each household.

All the councillors had been elected on the basis =

that they opposed this charge. In 1985 the Fianna =

F=E1il manifesto for the local elections stated =

"Fianna F=E1il are totally opposed to the new =

system of local charges and on return to office =

will abolish these charges and repeal the =

legislation under which they are imposed ." =

However when the time came to show their =

opposition they stalled before striking a rate. =

In South County it was =A370, in Fingal it was =A385, =

in Dun Laoighaire/Rathdown it varied from =A350 to =

=A393.

The sorry excuse that arose on the occasion of =

all these politicians proving themselves to be =

liars was that they were forced to strike a water =

charge rate or else the government would dissolve =

the council. Councillor Don Tipping of Democratic =

Left later wrote his excuse in the Tallaght Echo =

"We (Democratic Left) faced down a threat to =

abolish the council in 1994 by F=EDanna Fa=EDl =

Minister Smith, who insisted that we must have =

the water charges." The way Mr Tipping and his =

fellow councillors 'faced down' this threat was =

to concede totally to the government wishes. It =

is on such weak reasons that politicians' =

promises are broken. This whole episode also =

speaks volumes about how our 'democracy' works. =

The government pushes for Water Charges and the =

councillors bluster but fail to oppose it in any =

meaningful way. Instead they set the charge and =

set about the business of collecting it. In just =

a short space of time nearly all the elected =

councillors went from opposing water charges to =

imposing water charges.

Opposition blooms

In the spring 1994 issue of Workers Solidarity =

(paper of the Workers Solidarity Movement) Gregor =

Kerr wrote "Householders and residents in Dublin =

should immediately prepare to resist these =

charges. If nobody pays, they will be impossible =

to collect." Over the summer of 1994 political =

opposition to these water charges was drummed up =

as many public meetings were held all over the =

county. Members of Militant Labour (now known as =

the Socialist Party) and the Workers Solidarity =

Movement and many non-aligned activists worked at =

leafleting information about the forthcoming =

charge. We showed what had happened when similar =

charges were imposed in the other cities, towns =

and county areas. The water charges had soon =

developed into a service charge and now =

households were facing annual bills from their =

local councils in excess of =A3100. We knew this =

first charge was the thin end of the wedge and we =

went about getting that information into as many =

houses as possible.

Long hours were spent going around housing =

estates dropping in leaflets talking to people on =

the doorsteps. I remember spending evenings =

walking around one particular suburb with =

comrades leafleting for a meeting which we had =

organised in a local pub. After distributing =

thousands of leaflets two people turned up for =

the meeting, one from the local newspaper and one =

a worker in the council. In Templeogue people had =

not been involved in campaigns and there was =

little history of community based struggle. A =

sense of community appeared absent as each person =

looked after their own interests. But this area =

became more organised later on in the campaign =

and more people became involved as the council =

began to drag people to court. The hard work done =

a year earlier was rewarded as the campaign =

blossomed in the area.

The response was different in other areas of the =

city. In Firhouse 70 people showed up for the =

initial meeting. The activists organised a survey =

as a good means to develop contacts and as a =

means to argue against the charges. Persistent =

work by activists helped raise the awareness of =

the issue. As people became aware of the campaign =

more and more became involved.

On September 24th a conference was held and this =

gave rise to the Federation of Dublin Anti-Water =

Charges Campaigns. Councillor Joe Higgins =

(Militant Labour) was elected Chairperson of the =

campaign. Gregor Kerr, a member of the WSM, was =

elected secretary of the campaign. We prepared =

and built for a march which took place in =

November 1994. Local meetings were held thoughout =

Dublin and they were generally well attended. A =

march took place in the city centre and over 500 =

people protested at the implementation of this =

double taxation. The campaign was by now well and =

truly alive and we were building all the time by =

raising the issue where we could. Over the course =

of late 1994/early 1995 nearly every house in =

Fingal and South Dublin had received a leaflet =

from the campaign.

Ambush in the Night

By early December '94, South Dublin County =

Council had had enough of our campaign. People =

weren't paying the bill fast enough for their =

liking so they decided to up the ante and =

declared that if people didn't pay their =

outstanding bills within a certain number of days =

cut-offs would commence. The councils were now =

resorting to the tactics of the school yard bully =

by their use of threatening language in letters =

and ultimately with the threat of cutting off =

people's water supply.

All the activists raced into action. There were =

stake-outs at the water inspectors' houses. We =

would follow them around to ensure that they =

didn't attempt any cut off under the cover of the =

night. Clondalkin people organised their own cars =

to patrol around that area. CB radios were =

installed in the cars so that we were in constant =

communication with each other as we monitored the =

movements of the men who would try to cut =

people's water off. One house in Tallaght was =

turned into a virtual Head Quarters for the =

campaign. The phone calls kept flooding in. =

Communities learned to be vigilant of the blue =

Dublin Water Works vans and were very wary when =

they came into the estates. Children playing =

football on the park were told to knock on the =

doors when they saw such vans in the area. Indeed =

one van ventured into an estate in Clondalkin =

village and when the kids alerted everyone to =

their presence they hopped back into their van =

and drove away rapidly!

I remember freezing one night in a not so new car =

with a comrade from Militant Labour and waiting =

on one water inspector to move. I got out of the =

car to answer the call of mother nature behind a =

bush and I heard a huge roar from the car. Our =

man was on the move at 5.00am in the morning, a =

little early to be starting work we thought. He =

was aware that he was being followed so he gave =

up and went back home via Crumlin Garda station =

where he moaned about our close attention.

All our efforts did not go unnoticed. One South =

County Dublin councillor called us "political =

pygmies." The Evening Herald entitled us the =

"water bandits." But the final result from the =

reports the campaign received was that 12 houses =

were disconnected and they were duly reconnected. =

The campaign had won the first battle and no =

house would be without water for that Christmas.

Little Changes except the Government

Things now suddenly changed because a different =

game was being played in the D=E1il. The Brendan =

Smith affair [1] caused the collapse of the =

Fianna F=E1il and Labour government.

A new government was formed. It still had Labour =

in it, but this time their partners in government =

were F=EDne Gael and Democratic Left. With the =

change in government came a change in the tactics =

used to try to extract the double tax of the =

water charge. In the D=E1il the Minister for the =

Environment announced that the power of the local =

authorities to disconnect water was to be =

'delimited'. When pursued on this issue he said =

"The Government will delimit their power to =

ensure that water supply is not cut off as a =

quick reaction but where somebody has the =

capacity to pay and refuses to do so the ability =

to disconnect water supply will remain with the =

local authority." [2] As you can see statements =

like this did little to clarify the matter for =

us.

We continued to apply political pressure. We held =

a picket outside the Democratic Left conference =

which was held in Liberty Hall. The Labour party =

conference in Limerick was picketed by a number =

of activists. Labour members continued to be smug =

as they passed our picket and they paid little =

attention to us but disliked the slogan "You =

didn't axe the double tax, now watch your vote =

collapse." On that picket we were joined by anti- water charge activists from Limerick and Galway.

Over the next couple of months nearly a hundred =

thousand leaflets were produced and distributed =

calling on people to maintain a non-payment =

policy and explaining the government's pathetic =

tax-free allowance scheme. It proposed that if =

you paid your water charge on time then you were =

entitled to claim a tax rebate at 27%. So if your =

tax was =A3150 you were entitled to a maximum =

rebate of =A340.50. In South County Dublin with the =

Water Charge at =A370 you were entitled to a =

maximum rebate of =A318.90. If you lived in Cavan =

you could claim back =A340.50, but you'd already =

paid =A3210 for your service charge.

A Law made to be Broken

On 31st March an announcement was made that the =

councils would have to bring people to court to =

obtain an order prior to being able to disconnect =

the water. This was what the newspeak word =

"delimit" meant in real terms. This was the major =

concession that was won by Democratic Left in =

their negotiations in government! A press =

conference was held by the campaign outlining a =

strategy for dealing with the threats of court =

action. All cases would be legally defended in =

Court but whatever the outcome, pickets and =

protests would ensure that nobody's water was =

disconnected.

A conference was held in the ATGWU hall in Dublin =

on May 13th. It was decided then that during the =

coming Summer the FDAWCC would launch a =

membership drive at =A32 per household to help fund =

the legal costs which would no doubt be incurred =

when the councils finally got around to =

summonsing people. For the moment they contented =

themselves with sending out more threatening =

letters. The rate of non-payment remained strong. =

Over =A323 million remained outstanding from 1994. =

Successful meetings were held in many areas with =

150 people showing up for one meeting in =

Tallaght.

Late into the summer final warning notices began =

to appear threatening court action. This was the =

final stage before the real summonses would =

appear. The membership campaign was growing quite =

rapidly and over 2,500 householders had =

contributed. The Amalgamated Transport and =

General Workers Union very kindly provided the =

campaign with an office. An All Dublin Activists =

Meeting was held in September with the campaign =

working on a three pronged attack of non-payment, =

defence of non-payers in court, and maximising =

political pressure. =

The first court cases were scheduled for =

Rathfarnham court on November 13th 1995. The =

activists made a large attendance at this case a =

priority and on the day over 500 people turned =

up. They voiced their support for those people =

fighting in court and made clear their opposition =

to the charges. There were people from all over =

Dublin, as well as from other cities and towns =

thoughout the country. Various union banners were =

present. People sang and were in good spirits as =

the judge decided to adjourn the cases to the =

next week.

We never expected justice in court. So the next =

week we returned to the court house. That day in =

Rathfarnham finished with a 500 strong march =

through the village after the judge threw the =

council's cases out of court. RTE (national =

broadcasting service) finally decided that the =

campaign warranted some coverage and the picket =

appeared on the afternoon news. Both Joe Higgins =

and Gregor Kerr were amongst some of the many =

people interviewed on the Gay Byrne morning radio =

show. After two years in existence the media =

finally began to take notice of us.

The local authorities continued to pursue people =

though the courts. The council had many legal =

representatives such as a solicitor, a barrister =

and sometimes a senior barrister, as well as =

various council officials. They pursued the cases =

tirelessly but the campaign's solicitors (F.H. =

O'Reilly & Co.) contested them on several =

grounds. Despite this some disconnections were =

ordered but the campaign's tactic of appealing =

these decisions to the circuit court ensured that =

no disconnections could take place. Larry Doran =

(a pensioner from the Greenhills area of south =

Dublin) made an eloquent speech from the dock of =

this courtroom in February 1996 when he =

highlighted the injustice of this state which =

grants tax amnesties to the rich while pursuing =

pensioners for water charges though the courts. =

He said "if the wealthy paid their due taxes, =

PAYE taxpayers would not be asked to pay double =

and I would not be before this court." The Judge =

ordered the court to be cleared after the =

cheering and clapping that Mr. Doran's speech =

received. Larry, with the support of his local =

campaign, decided not to appeal but instead =

challenged the council to come and try to cut his =

water off. A demonstration was organised outside =

his house to show the council who they would have =

to deal with if they attempted to cut Larry's =

water off. The council decided not to take Larry =

up on his challenge.

The Councils of Fingal and Dun Laoghaire / =

Rathdown brought people to court as well. All =

members of the campaign were represented. After 6 =

months of trials up to May 18th 1996, involving =

25 appearances by councils, only 25 disconnection =

orders were issued against campaign members. One =

judge in Swords even invoked the Public Order Act =

to deal with a protest outside his courthouse. As =

William Morris said back in 1887 "The ruling =

class seem to want people to use the streets only =

to go back and forth to work, making profits for =

them." In 1996 the judge was still not too keen =

on the idea of the streets being used for much =

else, especially protests.

Death & opportunity

When Brian Lenihan, the Fianna Fail TD for Dublin =

West died it became obvious that his seat would =

be contested and Councillor Joe Higgins was going =

to run for the vacant seat as a Militant Labour =

Candidate. Joe had always spoken strongly against =

the water charges and campaigned tirelessly =

against them. On 13th January an All Dublin =

Activists Meeting was held at which Joe sought =

the endorsement of the campaign for his candidacy =

in the forthcoming by-election.

Members of the WSM present at this meeting spoke =

strongly against this proposal. We said that we =

would much prefer to see the charge defeated by =

the working class organising on the streets to =

show their opposition. We believe that people =

have to seize back control over their own lives =

and this is not done by electing some official to =

fight your corner. Empowerment would come from =

defeating the combined forces of the state, the =

government, and the local authorities, by =

organising together and fighting against the =

imposition of this charge. Now that we were =

winning, we just had to keep on pushing forward =

with our demands to have this charge abolished. =

Electing Joe to sit in the D=E1il to argue our case =

was never going to be empowering. Joe would have =

been ignored just as on the local council his =

opposition to the charge was ignored. While our =

arguments were well received and considered, the =

decision of the meeting was to endorse Joe's =

candidacy.

In the end Councillor Joe Higgins nearly became =

Joe Higgins TD but for a few hundred votes. In =

the end however, Irish politics didn't vary from =

the mean and the son Brian Lenihan Junior was =

elected to the seat his father had died in.

The Federation of Dublin Anti Water Charges =

Campaigns held a conference in May of 1996. Many =

people were jubilant by the good showing of Joe =

Higgins in the Dublin West by-election. For many =

activists this was the most media coverage the =

campaign had received since its inception. But on =

the various prongs of attack we were doing well. =

Not one member had been disconnected despite the =

flurry of court activity and the huge resources =

spent by the councils chasing non-payers. The =

Campaign was still solvent and over 10,000 =

households had contributed =A32 each to it. We =

decided to continue to maximise political =

pressure and the majority of people were in =

favour of the campaign running a slate of =

candidates in the next general election in order =

to 'put the frighteners on the politicians.' Once =

again we argued against this tactic. The Campaign =

was already on winning ground. The courts =

couldn't operate. Resistance to payment was still =

very high with over 50% of the houses not paying. =

The Councils were heading into their third year =

of setting a rate that would not be paid by the =

majority of people in the area. When a campaign =

of working class resistance to this injustice is =

so strong the last thing you need to do is to =

elect more politicians whose voices will be lost =

, soon to be followed by their principles. Mass =

resistance had got the campaign into this winning =

position and mass resistance would be the murder =

weapon of the water charges.

In November and December of 1996 the Campaign =

increased the pressure on the local councillors. =

All sorts of incentive schemes had been =

introduced to try and make people pay this double =

tax and all of them had failed. The non-payment =

of water charges had increased and the =

councillors knew the imposition of this tax was =

becoming impossible. The prospect of a General =

Election in the Summer of 1997 had all the =

political parties running for cover. They were =

running scared in the face of the massive =

unpopularity of this form of local funding. The =

last turn of the screw came in the shape of Civil =

Process cases. In this instance the councils took =

people to a civil process court where they would =

try and get the judge to rule for them and where =

they would be entitled to seize assets to the =

value of the money owed. This new tactic, which =

they are continuing to persevere with, has met =

with as little success as the previous ones. =

Again, people turned up in their hundreds to =

defend their fellow citizens from this =

persecution, and a combination of court protests =

and legal defence continues to make life very =

difficult for the councils.

The water charges were effectively dead in the =

water (pun intended). They had become =

uncontrollable and largely uncollectable. Further =

demonstrations were held outside local council =

meetings where they tried to strike an estimate =

for the following year of how much they would =

seek from the people. A march was held in the =

city centre which attracted a good attendance. =

The message was to stand firm and we would =

definitely see victory. Protest phone calls =

bombarded the local councillors. Massive public =

meetings were held. 500 people attended such a =

meeting in Baldoyle in late November. Finally, on =

December 19th 1996 the Minister for the =

Environment announced that the Water Charge was =

going to be replaced by a new system whereby the =

road tax collected in each area would be the =

source for local council funding. Of course he =

neglected to mention that his hand was forced in =

this change of policy.

The working class people of Dublin had organised, =

rallied and won an important victory. Double =

taxation was over and this is due to the policy =

of mass resistance, organisation and direct =

action. The political establishment had once =

again thought they could exploit the working =

class for yet more money. But this time they had =

their noses bloodied. The fight is not over but =

the victory is certainly ours. In time to come we =

should remember this victory and how it was won =

because the politicians will not be long before =

they come up with a new method to exploit us =

while they leave the rich to get richer. We must =

remember that direct action and mass resistance =

destroyed their best laid plan this time and be =

ready to employ these tactics again when they =

unveil their new tricks.

Footnotes

1 The Brendan Smith affair brought about the =

collapse of this Government. The Attorney =

General's office took an exceedingly long time to =

get extradition papers prepared so that Father =

Brendan Smith could be extradited and prosecuted =

for child abuse. It led to the resignation of =

Albert Reynolds as Taoiseach and the formation of =

a new government (without an election).

2 Quote taken from minutes of the D=E1il as =

Minister Howlin answered a question.

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