The Water Tax, the Bin Tax & elections


The campaign against double taxation bin charges is reaching a critical point. As the number of people joining the non-payment campaign continues to grow, and as an election grows ever nearer, councillors from all political parties are jumping on the bandwagon of opposition to the charges. No doubt by the time of the election, they'll all be proclaiming their steadfast opposition to the charges, and hoping that the voters will have forgotten their past actions in voting for them.

The election will also see several candidates who have been involved in the campaign against the charges looking for votes and promising change if they are elected. Anarchists have always opposed participation in the sham of parliamentary elections (choosing rulers rather than ending the division into rulers and ruled) and this time around it will be no different. We believe the experience of the anti - water charges campaign in the mid-1990s should be recalled and bears a valuable lesson for campaigners against bin charges.

Ask many people now how the water charges were defeated in Dublin, and they'll reply that it was due to the performance of Joe Higgins in the Dublin West by-election in 1996. And it is of course true that Joe's near election in that by-election sent a shockwave through the political establishment, laying the foundation for his election to the Dáil in the following year's general election. But is it true to say that it was through Joe's election that the charges were defeated?

We would say most definitely not and indeed we argued at the time that the Federation of Dublin Anti-Water Charge Campaigns should not endorse any candidacy. Our principal argument was that we would much prefer to see the charges defeated by the working class organising on the streets to show their opposition. We argued that people had to seize back control over their own lives and that this was not done by electing some official to fight our corner. Empowerment would come from defeating the combined forces of the state, the government, and the local authorities, by organising together and fighting the imposition of the charge.

It was no empty sloganeering. We had - as had the Socialist Party - been involved for the previous two years in building the strongest campaign of popular resistance to any government measure for over two decades. Over 10,000 households were paid-up members of the campaign, Council attempts to disconnect water had been thwarted, their attempts to take people through the courts had served only to provide a focus for popular protest. Most importantly, resistance to payment of the charge was steadfast and strong with over 50% of houses not paying.

Put simply, a campaign had been built which had rendered the charge uncollectable. It was a campaign which relied not on any great leaders, but which relied instead on the resistance of ordinary working class people. Our argument was that the election of Joe Higgins to the Dáil to 'argue our case' was in fact an act of disempowerment. The message the campaign should have been giving to people at the time was - YOU have defeated the water charge. By standing side by side with your neighbours and resisting Council attempts to intimidate us WE together have forced the government to back down.

Instead, unfortunately, the message taken by a lot of people was that Joe defeated the water charges, that it was the size of his vote which was the decisive point. This was patently not the case. While Joe's near election was obviously significant, the more frightening thing from the government's perspective was the sight of ordinary working class people refusing to bow down, standing shoulder to shoulder and delivering clear and tangible evidence that Solidarity is Strength.

It's a message that still needs to be remembered. The very act of going into a polling booth and putting a number on a piece of paper is an act of disempowerment. Keep that power and stand together to build a new society.

Sean Maguire