Issue 3 of Red and Black Revolution, first published in 1998.
Red and Black Revolution 03 - 1998
Winning the Water War
Last year the domestic water charge was abolished. In 'Winning the Water War', Dermot Sreenan, an activist in the Federation of Dublin Anti-Water Charges Campaigns examines the campaign and the demonstration of people power that brought about the downfall of this charge.
Italian Anarchism...Get back to where you once belonged
Italy is one of the historical strongholds of the anarchist movement. Donato Romito, the international secretary of the Italian Federation of Anarchist Communists (Fd.C.A), provides an overview of the anarchist movement in Italy today, the organisations and publications that comprise it and the direction it should take in the future.
Organising against Capitalism
Many revolutionaries in recent years have been engrossed in analysing the mistakes of the past and the changing nature of capitalism. Andrew N. Flood a participant in the "Intercontinental Gathering for Humanity and against neo-liberalism" argues it is time to start moving on to the constructive work of building a new movement.
The Emergence Of Modern Irish Socialism 1885-87
Fintan Lane is a historian and left-wing activist. He is the author of The Origins of Modern Irish Socialism, 1881-1896 which will be published by Cork University Press on 1 May.
Anarchists and the trade unions - Be active - be involved
Trade Unions are important organs of the working-class. Gregor Kerr - a member of the Irish National Teachers Organisation who has been involved in campaigns against "social partnership" and in many strike support groups - argues that trade union involvement should form a central part of the political activity of all anarchists.
Review: Constructive Anarchism
Despite its relevance, The Organisation Platform of the Libertarian Communists is as controversial as ever. Kevin Doyle reviews Constructive Anarchism, a new pamphlet from Monty Miller Press in Australia that has collected The Platform and some of the early responses to its proposals into one useful edition.
Review: The Labour Movement and the Internet
The internet - viewed by some as the highway to the future, dismissed by others as an over - hyped toy with little practical value. Conor Mc Loughlin reviews a new book on the internet and its use by the labour movement.
After Apartheid: Anarchism and the 'new' South Africa
Just three years after the famous elections that ended apartheid in April 1994, South Africa's reforms are in crisis and dissatisfaction is rising. In a wide ranging interview we ask the Workers Solidarity Federation for their views on what has happened since the end of apartheid. Interview by Kevin Doyle.
Introduction to issue 3
Welcome to issue three of "Red and Black Revolution". Apologies for the fact that we are about six months behind schedule but we hope that you will forgive us for using the old cliche 'better late than never'. We hope to be back on schedule with Issue 4 which should be on the shelves in October '98.
In this issue we look at Anarchism past and present, at home and abroad. Anarchism is a political current with little historical basis in Ireland (at least little historical basis that is generally known about). Fintan Lane's article in this issue shows that anarchists were active in Ireland over 100 years ago.
We look also at what is happening in Anarchist circles and organisations in Italy - where Anarchism is enjoying something of a re-birth, and in South Africa - another country whose Anarchist history is little known but where great strides have been made by the movement in recent times.
The need for organisation, the idea that capitalism won't fall by itself, is a theme which is central to the politics of the WSM. We return to this theme in an article which challenges anarchists to face up to the necessity for organisation, and which sets out to discuss some of the challenges involved in such organisation.
Finally, on the good news front. It is rare in these times to be able to report on campaigns which successfully involve large numbers of people in challenging the state and which emerge victorious. However, just such a campaign has been run in Ireland, and especially in Dublin, over the past three years. The successful campaign against water charges was a tremendous victory for people power. It was a campaign with which the WSM was proud to be associated and our heartiest congratulations go to all involved. The significance of victories in single-issue campaigns such as this should never be under-estimated. All of those involved - whether centrally or peripherally - played an important role in forcing the government to back down. Solidarity did indeed prove to be strength, and this message must be carried forward to the next battle.
Italian Anarchism...get back to where you once belonged
Italy is one of the historical strongholds of the anarchist movement. In this article from 1998, Donato Romito, the international secretary of the Italian Federation of Anarchist Communists (Fd.C.A), provides an overview of the anarchist movement in Italy at the time, the organisations and publications that comprise it and the direction it should take in the future.
The present Italian anarchist movement is passing through a crisis which it will only be able to get over if it finds a new political project. This crisis comes not only from the choices made in the '50s (a slow and unrelenting self-exclusion from the Italian political and trade union life), but also from more recent causes: due to difficulties in reading the current situation and in not having a political project since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.
Italian anarchists are often active in many struggles and support many different campaigns and initiatives, though this is mostly at a local level, which is preferred both out of choice and out of lack of wider political action. There are rare attempts to organise regional or national co-ordinations, but these almost immediately have to face a single fact: the existence of various tendencies inside anarchism. This diversity could be a richness if each tendency shared in making a common project, but it is a grave source of weakness if sectarianism and "crossed vetoes" prevail.
I will give a brief account of the different tendencies in the movement today.
At present there are two national federations. The first and largest is the F.A.I.1 . It was founded in 1945, and has passed though different political periods: enthusiasm after the end of the WWII and after the great contribution that anarchists made to the Resistance; next the renunciation of the class-struggle for all of the '50s and the '60s; the disaffiliation of the individualist tendencies at the end of the '60s; the expulsion of the "Platformist" groups at the beginning of the '70s; the subsequent rediscovery of social struggles. The FAI issues the weekly paper Umanita Nova, which is the most widely circulated paper in the movement, dealing with news and topics written for anarchists but which often fails to reach the people. FAI is an organisation composed of various tendencies, which, while enriching the debate, may block the congress resolutions, as each branch has large autonomy. FAI branches are often very active at a local level, but nationally FAI doesn't seem to have any official or public political line. The last congress launched the idea of building an "anarchist strategy for social transformation", but it's not easy to strike a balance. The second and smaller federation is Fd.C.A2 . This was founded in 1986 and is the latest organised expression of Italian anarchist-communism, after the O.R.A.3 . Fd.C.A. has branches and comrades in some regions in the centre and north of Italy and issues the quarterly bulletin Alternativa Libertaria, that reflects the activity and the positions of the federation. It's an organisation based on theoretical and strategic unity for all the members and on tactical experimentation. Its members are active in the unions, in the social centres and in local single-issues movements. At present FdCA is trying to develop a "minimal program" for political and social intervention today. The 2 federations don't have stable relations at national level, but they sometimes collaborate at local level. Each federation has international contacts with similar organisations: FAI is inside I.A.F.4 ; and the FdCA has promising new relations with A.L.5 , O.S.L.6 , W.S.M., C.G.T.7 .
There are tens of non-federated groups and circles. They are very active at local level about local issues or about national echo campaigns. They often make anarchism known in little towns and this is very important work. Their political life is tied to the ups and downs in their members' lives. Among these groups we have to mention Cane Nero8 . Their positions are inspired by insurrectionalism (in the name of anarchy). Their "military" actions are decided in secrecy and often provoke police repression against all anarchists who more often than not know nothing about Cane Nero's actions. These comrades are then asked by Cane Nero to support it. Yet when the dust eventually settles, the name of anarchy has been ruined and around anarchism there is only a desert!!
There are many magazines, papers and fanzines at local and national level. It would be impossible to mention all of them here. But I will mention A-Rivista Anarchia9 , which is very widely circulated and concentrates on cultural, philosophical and historical topics. It has always been very distant from class-anarchism. It is issued in Milan. A-Rivista Anarchia is paying a lot of attention to questions such as municipalism, self-management, anarcho-capitalism, influencing the debate and the fashions within the movement. Very close to A-Rivista Anarchia is Volonta10 , a magazine-publisher about the State, Education, Utopia. Comunismo Libertario11 deals with social, political and union problems and is interesting for the class-anarchist tendencies: welfare, unions strategy, economy. It is issued in Livorno. Germinal is a paper from the north-east; it deals with ex-Yugoslavian problems, anti militarism, social centres. It is issued in Trieste. Close to Germinal is Senzapatria12 . It is about antimilitarism. Collagamenti/Wobbly is a good magazine concerning theoretical reflections about current struggles caused by the present change in industry. It is issued in Turin. Ombre Rosse13 is something like a strategical reflection and analysis bulletin. It is issued by libertarian-communists in Genoa. Rivista Storica Dell'Anarchismo14 deals with historic questions and it's an attempt at collaboration among historians of different anarchist tendencies. It is issued in Carrara. Eleuthera is a good publisher and does interesting books about social and historical topics. Close to A-Rivista Anarchia. There are many other little publishers within the movement and on the edge, whose work is very useful.
These are the only chances to collaborate.
Anti-Clerical meeting: held in Fano for 13 years, it has been a successful way to dust off the old anticlericalism against Church power, but with a modern approach. Not an anti-religious meeting, but anticlerical: i.e. how the Catholic Church, and all the fundamentalist churches, control our social and private lives (family planning, sexuality, education, abortion, Vatican Bank, religion-tax) and how to fight against it/them. This is an example where anarchists have been able to involve many non-anarchists in the issue.
Self management Fair: it's a touring meeting (this year's is the 3rd) presenting experiences and debate concerning self management. It tries to respond to the new needs emerging from the movement: how to begin and develop experiences based on self management - education, farming, libraries, bookshops, services, self-productions (videos, CDs, infos- net.). Some people think that this is the way to smash capitalism, whereas others believe that it is just a way to "secede" from capitalism. Some think that these experiences belong only to those who are directly involved while others think that this may be the beginning of an alternative network for all the people and not only for anarchists or libertarians. Since welfare is under attack, the debate has been growing around the two positions. To briefly describe this debate: On the one hand the workers' movement tries to defend the dying welfare-state and links itself to the reformist parties and reformist unions that continually negotiate welfare cuts, thus reinforcing the state and the government. At the same time welfare can't be in the hands of private agencies so the anarchist minority must reject State-welfare and Market-welfare and help to build self managed welfare. On the other hand you can hear people say that to defend welfare does not mean to defend the state but the workers' immediate interests: health, education, social security aren't options, but rights to defend along with wages. Therefore a great mass movement is needed to fight against neo-liberalism and welfare cuts; at the same time anarchists and libertarians have the right to experiment with new social models, beginning from themselves but going towards all the people. The debate is open. . . .
Spain: in 1996 the movement campaigned about Spain '36 with videos, conferences, debates. "Tierra y Liberated" helped a lot. But only the Trotskyist Socialismo Rivoluzionario was able to organise a six-day camping about the Spanish revolution!
Americans in north-east: a new campaign is beginning against the American troops in the north-east of Italy. Anarchists are in the front line.
Ship to Bosnia: this was a very important initiative involving part of the movement in material solidarity to multi-ethnic Tuzla. It was a mass campaign both inside and outside the movement. All the various tendencies lost their holy importance. . . . and many workers subscribed.
Political Problems: Unions, social centres. . . . Despite all this activity, the Italian anarchist movement is practically "clandestine", far from the public political eye. This is often deliberate, but more often due to media indifference. . . . . though what is also true is the movement is not able to reach the tens of thousands of people as in the '20s, or just after WW2. Maybe only co-ordination among the several groups and national campaigns can restore visibility and credibility to the movement. Maybe?
Union: The anarchist workers are split up between different unions. And this seems to be a good thing. We can find anarchists inside CGIL15 as part of the left opposition inside the greatest Italian union, organising rank-and-file activity in the workplace for full control over bargaining, delegates and struggles. There are anarchists inside CUB16 , a new alternative union that gathers some thousands of workers from industry and the public sector. The anarchists have been put in the minority by a centralised management of the CUB. The CUB is based in Milan. There are anarchists inside UNICOBAS (a new alternative union which grew out of the 'cobas' struggles in the '80s: schools, airports public sector) that tries to be a mass-union giving importance to the workers' interests along with struggles against social cuts, unemployment and traditional union power in national bargaining. Based in Rome. There are anarchists inside U.S.I.17 , re-born at the end of the '70s from the ashes of the glorious pre-fascism USI. Unfortunately USI split into 2 parts before summer. The reason for this partition are very complex: a different point of view about which role the union has to play and a different attitude to the ARCA18 . One USI bases itself on libertarian-socialism as conditions for building the revolutionary union and a revolutionary project, and believes that joining ARCA is a negation of the original USI project. Roughly, but briefly, we can say that they put more emphasis on ideological aspects. The other USI bases itself on trying to be a mass-organisation with no ideological influences; it is active in bargaining in the workplace and has been recognised as a "representative union" in different sectors. It is part of ARCA, which is a confederation of 4 unions (UNICOBAS, USI, SdB, CNL), with 25,000 members and aims to get full union representation at national and local level. The two USIs have branches all over the country and issue two papers with the same name: Lotta di Classe19 . A third USI is in Milan (very active in Health) and till now hasn't sided with either of the two former USIs. There is a similar situation in France with CNT-F.
Social Centres: In Italy, the self managed social centres (different from those created by local administrations and controlled by the parties) are an important part of the opposition movement. Where they are set up they often become a sort of land-mark in the towns: young and not-so-young people can meet there, organise concerts, debates, watch and produce videos, listen to and produce music, support social struggles and international campaigns (Chiapas, Cuba, ex-Yugoslavia). Anarchists tend to set up their own self managed social centres and they generally leave or ignore social centres build by other political groups. But sometimes you can find co-operation among different tendencies of the Italian revolutionary left. Anarchists should avoid the marginalisation of the social centres from the surrounding community: between ghetto and no-man's land we should always choose solidarity and co-operation. This is the way to beat Leninist tendencies inside the social centres.
If Italian anarchism succeeds in breaking the 'splendid isolation' where it currently lives and goes back to the people, to workers, and to the social movements it may become a new force for change, for social transformation towards a better life, and, step by step, towards libertarian-communism: this is revolutionary gradualism. Those who have already taken this path have the responsibility to reach out, to contact, to relate with all the others willing to leave the ivory tower in order to organise, to collaborate, to create a network linking the libertarian left and the possible alternative.
- 1F.A.I. is the Italian Anarchist Federation
- 2Fd.C.A. is Federation of the Anarchist-Communists
- 3O.R.A. was the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists similar to French and English ORA
- 4I.A.F. is the International of Anarchist Federations
- 5A.L. is Alternative Libertaire in France
- 6O.S.L. is Libertarian Socialist Organisation in Switzerland
- 7C.G.T. is the Union Confederacion General
del Trabajo in Spain
- 8Cane Nero means Black Dog
- 9A-Rivista Anarchia is A-anarchist magazine
- 10Volonta is Will
- 11Comunismo Libertario comes from FdCA experience. Now it’s an independent magazine.
- 12Senza Patria means Without Country
- 13Ombre Rosse means Red Shadows
- 14Historical magazine of Anarchism
- 15CGIL means Italian General Confederation of Labour
- 16CUB means Unitary Base Confederation
- 17USI was/is the Italian Syndicalist Union
- 18ARCA means Association of the Self
managed Confederated Representations
- 19Lotta di classe means Class Struggle
Winning The Water War: Defeating the Water Tax in Dublin in the 1990s
In 1997, the Irish domestic water charge was abolished. In 'Winning The Water War', Dermot Sreenan, an activist in the Federation of Dublin Anti Water Charges Campaigns examines the campaign and the demonstration of people power that brought about the downfall of this charge.
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 £70 per annum plus extra money for refuse collection while in the County of Cavan you had to pay £180 to the local council. In 1995 the service charges continued to rise with Mayo commanding an annual charge of between £205 and £235.
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 Fáil manifesto for the local elections stated "Fianna Fáil 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 £70, in Fingal it was £85, in Dun Laoighaire/Rathdown it varied from £50 to £93.
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 Fíanna Faíl 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.
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 £100. 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 Dáil. The Brendan Smith affair1 caused the collapse of the Fianna Fáil and Labour government.
A new government was formed. It still had Labour in it, but this time their partners in government were Fíne 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 Dáil 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 £150 you were entitled to a maximum rebate of £40.50. In South County Dublin with the Water Charge at £70 you were entitled to a maximum rebate of £18.90. If you lived in Cavan you could claim back £40.50, but you'd already paid £210 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 £2 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 £23 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 Dáil 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 £2 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.
- 1The 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).
- 2Quote taken from minutes of the Dáil as Minister Howlin answered a question.