On Thursday December 19th Minister for the Environment Brendan Howlin finally announced the abolition of water and sewerage charges. He had been left with no option but to surrender to a massive campaign of people power which rocked the political establishment to its core. Long before the formal announcement, however, it was clear that water charges were dead. They were dead because they were uncollectable. They were uncollectable because of a two and a half year long campaign which scared the hell out of politicians of all political parties, a campaign which withstood bribes, threats and intimidation from the Councils and which proved that solidarity is indeed strength.
Those of you who have been involved in this campaign or who have followed its progress in the pages of Workers Solidarity or elsewhere do not need to be reminded of its highpoints. From the early morning patrols to prevent water disconnections through protests outside courts in Rathfarnham, Swords and elsewhere and on to the latest round of protests outside Council estimates meetings, thousands of people have taken to the streets and shown their opposition to double taxation.
Tens of thousands of PAYE taxpayers and householders have refused to pay the charges and the membership and other financial contributions made by them have enabled the campaign to successfully defend court cases taken by the Councils. (It was certainly not a campaign ever likely to receive funding from Ben Dunne, Larry Goodman or any of the other "entrepreneurs" in whose interests the political and taxation systems are run).
Despite the introduction of special legislation by the government to allow the Councils the right to disconnect water, not one single disconnection happened. When the Councils became frustrated at their inability to push disconnection cases through the courts, they turned to the "Civil Process for Recovery of a Debt" and when the first of these cases hit the courts late last year the story was the same - protests, legal objections, refusal to bow to intimidation and frustration for the Councils. Just as a few short years before massive street protests had ensured that the Court decision to refuse the girl at the centre of the 'X' case the right to travel to England for an abortion had to be overturned, the vision of people power and communities standing together left the courts and the judges with no alternative but to find in our favour.
In my capacity as Secretary of the Federation of Dublin Anti Water Charge Campaigns (FDAWCC) one of the most ironic events of the campaign was the scurrying of politicians during late November/early December to jump on the bandwagon of opposition to the charges. Treating us all with the contempt which so many people have come to expect from politicians, they expect us to forget that members of all political parties set these charges and that the water tax in Dublin was presided over by two governments consisting of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour (twice) and Democratic Left. Let us not forget - politicians were responsible for imposing this unjust tax upon us. The working class people of Dublin and around the country who have resisted the tax are responsible for its end.
Now that the charges have eventually been abolished, all involved in the campaign should certainly take all the plaudits due to us. However, we must remember that our work is not over yet. Many of the people who have been on the frontline still have court cases pending against them. Tens of thousands of people have bills of several hundred pounds each against their property - bills which may be called in in the future if these people attempt to sell their houses. The two demands of an amnesty for all non-payers and an end to court cases must be fought for with the same vigour with which we have defeated the charges. In addition we must fight for the abolition of refuse collection charges where they exist and be prepared to resist their imposition in other areas. Any attempts by local authorities to increase motor tax must also be resisted.
The essential message to be taken from the campaign against water charges must be that the sight of tens of thousands of working-class people organising to defend our own interests led to the surrender of a government. We did not depend on anyone to fight on our behalf, self-organisation and direct action were our primary weapons. Every single person who put a leaflet into someone else's hand, who attended a meeting or protest, who refused to pay the charges played his/her part in our eventual victory. We showed the powers-that-be a glimpse of our potential power when we stand together. It is a lesson that we ourselves must not forget. It is a lesson which we must ensure the politicians are never allowed to forget.
Congratulations to all involved in the Campaign. Here's to our next victory!!