Bin Charges - a strategy to win

by Gregor Kerr, the former Secretary, Federation of Dublin Anti Water Charge Campaigns

The battle against bin charges has moved to the Dublin Corporation area. The charges (£95 per household[1]) were voted in by a majority of the councillors in mid-January, after threats by the Minister for the Environment to abolish the Council. (see "Liars and Cheats")

We're not going to deal here with the case against the charges, or indeed with the environmental 'justification' put forward in their favour (the 'polluter pays' argument - See Workers Solidarity 61 for an article on this.) What is of concern now is the building of the campaign against the charges. A meeting has already been held - hosted by Socialist party TD Joe Higgins - which has established an interim co-ordinating group to organise the campaign against the charges in Dublin. A conference will be held later in the year, following the establishment of local campaign groups.

Householders and residents throughout Dublin should immediately prepare to resist the charges. As was proven by the successful campaign against the water charges (which were abolished in 1996), if nobody pays, they will be impossible to collect.

The key tactic which guaranteed success in the anti-water charge campaign was the refusal to pay. In the initial stages of the campaign, activists in local communities went from door-to-door encouraging their neighbours to join the boycott campaign. It was this painstaking work which was later to bear fruit in terms of the building of community solidarity when water cut-offs were attempted. Anti-bin charges activists now face the same task. The campaign must be built slowly and steadily from the bottom up. The issues must be explained carefully to people and they must be encouraged to sign up to the non-payment campaign.


Public meetings across the communities will be the most effective way to organise this door-to-door canvass. It is important at these meetings that members of political parties are not allowed to attempt to hijack the campaign for their own ends.

With political parties and independent candidates all eyeing up the forthcoming general election, we can expect to see attempts by them to effectively 'carve-up' the areas among potential candidates. This is basically what has happened with the anti-bin charge campaign in the Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown area, with the Socialist Workers Party controlling the campaign in Dun Laoghaire and the Socialist Party in charge of Rathdown. This is a direct result of the top-down way in which the campaign was established, and means that - in the absence of real and meaningful local campaign groups - activists who are not members of those two parties find it difficult to have an input other than simply as people who are available to deliver leaflets.

It has also happened on numerous occasions in the past that campaigns have been established which are nothing more than 'fronts' for certain political parties - where a member of the party chairs the meeting, gathers an attendance list and then tells people he/she will be in touch with them about the next meeting. All meetings must insist on electing a local co-ordinating group from among the local activists in attendance. If this campaign is to be successful, it is of vital importance that campaign groups in local areas are built in a truly open and democratic manner, and that this openness and democracy is continued upwards as the local groups federate to form a more effective Dublin-wide and hopefully national network.

Ultimately, local groups must be prepared to resist at local level if the Council refuses to collect rubbish from non-payers. This was the real strength of the anti-water charge campaign. When the Councils attempted to disconnect water supply from non-payers, they discovered that they were unable to do so. The strength of neighbours standing side by side in resistance, the solidarity shown in demonstrations outside courts when they attempted to deal with protestors in that way combined to frighten the Council into submission. Building membership of the campaign at a local level, and asking householders to pay a small membership fee, was key to the success of the anti-water charge campaign. Having a 'war-chest' with which to pay for legal representation for householders brought to court meant that the Councils were unable to intimidate people into submission.

A refusal by the Corporation to collect rubbish is actually easier to fight than a threat to disconnect water. What will be important when that time comes will be that the groundwork will have been done and that strong local campaigns will exist to fight back. There's a job to be done in building the campaign. Don't leave it to others, get involved yourself. For details of the campaign in your area, contact WSM and we'll put you in touch.

more info:

1 The charge is £65 for households with 'low waste'. For those on social welfare, pensions and whose income is not up to taxable levels, there will be no charge

This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper '
Workers Solidarity'. We also provide a PDF files of our publications for you to print out and distribute locally

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This edition is No63 published in March 2001

Winning the Water War
In 1996 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.

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A PDF file of this article

Water Charge