On the 19th of December 1996 the minister for the environment made a low key announcement that he had abolished water and sewage charges throughout the country. This was a historic victory for the groups and campaigns which have been fighting for years through out the country on this issue. It was especially so for the campaign in Dublin. Here the Dublin Federation of Anti-Water Charges Campaigns has fought tooth and nail against the charges since their introduction about 3 years ago. After a mass campaign of non-payment and popular protest we have won.
It is important to realise just exactly how this came about. This campaign now stands at about 17,000 members (all of whom have paid £2 each to join). The rate of non-payment has been massive with over 50% in Dublin South and Fingal, Courts have ground to a halt as hundreds of non-payers turned up to fight charges against them.
The strength of the Federation lay in those who organised meetings, delivered leaflets, raised funds, organised pickets and demonstrations. The victory belongs to ordinary heroes and heroines, to householders, workers and pensioners like Jimmy Campbell and Larry Doran.
This campaign has succeeded because it has been committed to the idea of people organising on their own behalf. It was built without any media attention and in a time of deafening silence by the politicians (while their constituents were dragged before the courts.) The campaign has always been open and democratic, giving full say to all the activists involved and, where strong enough, building well organised local groups.
Anarchists argued throughout for self reliance, encouraging the campaign to place no trust in judges and politicians and indeed to hound and press the latter at every opportunity. The two key decisions made by the Federation were, firstly, the idea of the £2 membership. This meant that we had to go house to house to build the campaign. This is by far the best way to discuss issues and win people over if you have the time and numbers to do it. The second was to emphasise the importance of local groups meeting, drawing up their own leaflets, visiting their councillors doing their own fund raisers and so on.
We cannot deny that Joe Higgins coming within a hair's breadth of a seat in Dublin West did put the frighteners on the politicians. However what really scared them was the sight of 10,000s of thousands of people standing shoulder to shoulder and refusing to pay. What we now need is to continue this pressure for a full amnesty for the courageous non-payers.
The anti service charges campaign included thousands of worker's in Dublin, so what about their unions? If we can win in the communities why not make gains in the work place? What happens when you concede the cards to 'leaders' instead of relying on your own efforts becomes clear when you look at the lamentable state of the unions in this country. Right now they are pushing yet another deal with the bosses and government the 'Partnership 2000' agreement.
The last nine years of 'partnership' have been ones of massive unemployment and no net wage growth some dealÉÉÉ for the bosses! The new deal, excluding tax changes which the government promised before anyway, amounts to 7.4% over 39 months. Inflation is now running at 1.9% which is 6.2% over this time period. This means a net wage increase of 1.2% over inflation for the 39 months or a lousy 0.4% per year! Meantime the government has pushed through the Industrial Relations Act massively limiting workers 'ability to organise. In 1995, for example, the courts awarded £1.3 million against SIPTU for holding an official strike at Nolan's Transport in Wexford.
Meantime union membership (as a percentage of those in work) declined by 11% between 1987 and 1993. Those who remain feel demoralised and shop floor organisation has collapsed in many jobs. Members see little point in being involved when all the deals are done over their heads with their only function being to "OK" the new deal every three years. In the context of a booming economy, when one would expect the workers to be pushing for more of the cake, militancy has stagnated.
Of course this latest stitch up should be given the boot but that's not all. Just as we created a successful and democratic water charges campaign we must now try to do the same on the industrial front. A first step would be a basic set of demands. These should include a much shorter paid working week, a national minimum wage of £6.50 per hour, recruitment of young workers and a fight to save every job. We have to take control of our unions, push them as far as they can go and then push further for full control over how things are produced and over our own lives.
Amnesty for non-payers demonstration Four Courts Jan 27, 10:00
The defeat of the water charges proves the power ordinary people have when we organise together. It proves there is an alternative to the present system where a tiny wealthy minority order us around. This alternative is anarchism!
Anarchism is the idea that the mass of people, the working class, can change the world for the better replacing the exploitation, inequality and injustice that are all around today with a new world based on socialism and freedom. Anarchism is the idea of a world where there are no classes - the rich having been sent packing. Where society is run and controlled through councils by those who produce the wealth in society, the working class. Where there is absolute freedom of ideas, of movement and of the individual. Anarchism is a society built on the abolition of all tyranny, in society and in the workplace. In the everyday class struggle its aim is to build as much working class unity as possible. It argues for workers to strengthen their organisations and their capacity to take control from the bosses. This starts with taking control of our unions and community organisations at local level.
The inequality and authoritarianism of capitalism is neither acceptable nor necessary. Workers and the poor are constantly being asked to make sacrifices and to tighten their belts for the 'good of the country'. The things we most depend on like housing, health care and education are the very things that are being 'cutback' by the Government while all the time the huge wealth and profit of private industry remains relatively untouched by taxes. We are no strangers to this in Ireland.
Anarchists argue that this doesn't happen because we have 'bad' politicians but because it is the way that capitalism works. In a society where a small rich class controls things, it is inevitable that they will exploit and make the poor pay for as much as possible.
Anarchism is a practical way to bring about a society of socialism and freedom. The traditional 'way', in countries like ours, is through the ballot box. It is here that we are told that changes can be brought about if we want to make them. Anarchists don't agree with this and oppose involvement in the parliament for two reasons. Firstly, real power in society doesn't reside there. It is mainly a talking shop. Even if you did get a socialist party elected to Government that stood for the abolition of capitalism (instead of the normal situation where they stand for simply an increase in dole payments or a cut of two pence in the tax rate) they wouldn't be allowed to do it. In Chile in 1973 when the elected Allende Government proposed minor land reforms it was drowned in blood after the Army moved in to "save Chile from socialism". More recently the army in Haiti rejected the election of the reformer President Aristide and imposed a reign of terror. As long as parliament confines itself to minuscule or meaningless change it will be allowed to function. But to challenge the basis of capitalism - wage labour and private property - is just not on.
But there is also another reason why socialism can't be brought about by electing a socialist government. Anarchists argue that socialism is about the working class running society through workplace and community councils - in other words democracy in all parts of human activity. It is through this that a real equal distribution of wealth can take place. But most socialist parties don't believe in this idea at all. Rather they see socialism as something else. For them it is the idea of their Party which 'represents' the workers interests taking control of the State and 'making it work for the people'. Thus they put a lot of energy into promoting individual personalities as 'good politicians' who will sort out your problems unlike the 'bad politicians' currently in power.
Anarchists say that no one can actually 'represent' workers interests but workers themselves. Anarchists argue that only all those who suffer inequality and injustice can and will at the end of the day see the fight to end it through to the finish. Governments of socialists on the other hand soon get bogged down "in the national interest" and other compromises once in power. Far from changing anything, things can often get worse for many workers. Anarchists argue that the means used to build socialism and ends achieved are connected. Thus a Party which achieves power believing itself to represent the working class cannot but end up creating a rigid hierarchical society all over again.
Finally then, anarchism is the idea of a free socialist society and how it can be achieved by the direct action and strength of the working class. Anarchists stand uncompromisingly for a new world. It will be organised from the bottom up and production will be to meet peoples' needs, not for the private profit of a few. Every individual will enjoy complete control of her/his life with no limition their freedom as long as they do not encroach on the freedom of anyone else. That is what the Workers Solidarity Movement is fighting for. We want you to join with us in this fight.