Direct Action: A Basic Introduction - Video & Text


An introductory video on what direct action is and isn't, providing illustrations from the campaign against the water charges.

Direct action is at the heart of the struggle against the water charges, from preventing meters being installed, to Meter Fairies removing them, to boycotting registration and the water bills in April. But what is direct action, and what is it not?

Put very simply it is people acting directly to achieve some result, rather than relying on some intermediate person to do it for us. People preventing the installation of water meters is a perfect example. Other examples of direct action include Dunnes Stores Workers going on strike to abolish zero hour contracts, people sabotaging US military aircraft in Shannon Airport to halt the war in Iraq, and people disrupting work on Shell's experimental Corrib gas pipeline.

The two big advantages of taking direct action are 1) that it actually works, and 2) that it empowers us to see ourselves as people who can change the world, rather than as people who can merely ask others to change it for us.

Water charges examples:

People don't want the water charges, and hence don't want meters to be installed. Without metering our homes Irish Water cannot properly function as a commercial entity as it must charge us for a measured amount of water (temporary caps notwithstanding).

So instead of people waiting for their local councillor or TD to 'represent' their view, they have simply stopped the meters being installed themselves. This is direct action.

The same is true for the boycott. We want to stop Irish Water in its tracks and abolish it. If Irish Water cannot take our money in sufficient amounts, it cannot survive. So logically we should not pay the water bill in April. This is direct action. For contrast, Sinn Féin's obvious top preference is for people to vote for them, and for us to rely on their party to abolish the water charges in government.

However, we shouldn't make a fetish of direct action, as it it merely one tactic of many. Although very powerful, it is not the 'one true tactic'. Nor should we mislabel things as direct action. For instance, a banner drop is not direct action, and blocking some arbitrary road is not direct action. Those are symbolic actions. (Of course these things lie on a spectrum, but I don't want to get too bogged down here.)

An important tactic which is not direct action is the demonstration, mass or otherwise. These most often do not achieve a result directly by themselves and are primarily symbolic. Mass demonstrations are a show of force by which we inspire and encourage one another – the huge anti-water charges march on the 11th of October clearly had this effect. Often a key aim of a mass demonstration is to raise awareness of an issue, and – for example, in the case of the 23 Jobstown dawn raids and the jailings of the injuncted – to show that a large opposition exists.

Such mass demonstrations are very important. But it's crucial that we see them for what they are. It is not merely the case that if we cross a certain threshold of feet on the street that we will be victorious. If we only relied on marches to defeat Irish Water, we could pretty safely say that we would lose. We have to see tactics as complementing one another.

To finish, I'll return briefly to the empowering effect of direct action. We live in a society where the great multitude of people are detached from decision making, whether that's in parliament, work, or school. A society where we generally look to leader or boss figures to take care of things for us. Of course this is a very unhealthy situation, caused mostly by the hierarchical systems we live under, and isn't at all unique to Ireland.

Direct action, as something which fosters individual initiative and collective empowerment, is a step towards a freer society. It shatters the idea that 'Someone Else Will or Should Do It'.

All of the above is why as well as being at the heart of the struggle against the water charges, direct action has been at the heart of anarchist politics for so long.

For coverage and analysis of the struggle against the water charges, and much more, follow the Workers Solidarity Movement Facebook page.