The ruling class strategy of making working people pay for the crisis has seen public and private sector pay cuts, job losses, welfare reductions and slashing of important services like special needs assistants for children with physical and mental problems. Coming soon, if Cowan and Gormley have their way, is the return of a domestic water tax.About 100 people attended an anti-water charges forum called by Socialist MEP Joe Higgins in February. We discussed building opposition to this latest attempt by the wealthy to put their hands into our pockets.

15 years ago a mass campaign of non-payment, which the Workers Solidarity Movement helped to organise, forced the Fine Gael/Labour government to abolish water charges. There is no timetable for bringing in the new tax but it’s expected to be within the next year or two. The first step will be trying to install meters in each house.

This is so they can pretend it’s “environmental”. The plan is to start off with households being allocated a "free" allowance of water and only when they use more than this amount will they start paying. We can be sure that’s just a temporary measure, as demonstrated recently by the introduction of charges in Dublin for bin waiver holders.

The real purpose is to generate an “income stream” and eventually privatise water supply. That‘s what happened with water supply in Britain and it’s what happened here with refuse services.

Speaking to the forum Michael Taft, Research Officer of the UNITE trade union, reminded us of the huge differences of wealth in Ireland, where the top 5% own 40% of all wealth and the top 1% have 33% of all the financial wealth. He also pointed out that service charges are part of the ongoing transfer of wealth from working people to the rich.

Environmental engineer Maurice Sweeney rubbished the Green argument that ordinary people waste water. The real waste is down to the crap state of mains water pipes in much of the country. About 35% of all drinking water is lost through leaks. Some of this is down to aging Victorian pipes not being replaced, while some is down to letting building firms on state contacts get away with incredibly low standards in recent years.

He explained that there is no evidence to suggest that meters will lead to a reduction in consumption. A good example is England and Scotland, where water use per household is slightly more than in Ireland, despite the fact that they have meters and charges in these countries already. Meters, he said, were simply a tool to charge for water.

Everyone at the forum seemed to be agreed that mass non-payment must the basis of a national campaign. The government is getting ready, and so are we. A large number of those present volunteered to be part of an interim organising committee to discuss, in detail, the nuts and bolts of building a campaign.



More articles on the struggle agains the Water Tax (and the 1990's victory)

Related reading: Looking back on the battle of the Bins & the Lessons Learnt - Interview