Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Proceedings of the Campaign Against Household and Water Tax National Forum

with one comment

Teachers Club, Dublin, Saturday 10th September 2011.

The following is an unofficial record written up from notes on the day. In some cases I did not catch who the speaker from the floor was and he or she is identified by an initial or as Speaker 1, etc. Speakers are tagged by the identification (party affiliation etc.) that they declared before speaking. If a name is wrong or there is any unintended misrepresentation of what someone actually said I apologise and will rectify it if notified.

Des Derwin

The big hall in the Teachers Club was full with plenty of people standing. It was later said from the platform that over 200 had registered from 16 different counties. There were perhaps a few dozen more than that present. Most currents of the far left were represented.

Malachy Steenson (ACRA and Workers Party) chaired and opened the first session. He explained that there would be two sessions, the first on ‘why we are here’ and the political dimensions, and the second on building the campaign.

Joe Higgins TD (Socialist Party) opened the first session. Spoke first as gaeilge and said that there were people from all over including from gaeltacht areas of Donegal and Galway. We had a victory over water charges before. He had some time ago invited representatives of the left groups to discuss a campaign. An interim steering committee had been formed. We now need a national, well-organised campaign. When the household tax was announced in July the steering committee called this meeting today.

Where are we at? The government intend a household tax from January at €100 per year. This is a preparation for 1) a property tax and 2) water charges. Hence the name, the Campaign Against Household and Water Tax. The aim of the government is to get revenues of €700 to €800 per annum from the household tax and €500 from water charges to bring in €1.5 billion to €2 billion. The legislation as not been announced yet.

What is afoot? Even before the economic crisis the establishment wanted to broaden tax to the working class. Now the household and water taxes are linked with the bank bail-out, they are part of the IMF/EU/ECB deal, a transfer of wealth from ordinary people to save the European financial system. These taxes are part of this. They are not to fund local services as is being claimed.

These policies of austerity are wrecking the economy. The campaign is seeking mass non-payment of this tax, a national boycott, that people would refuse to pay – that is the foundation, the rock, of the campaign. We would be building on the experiences of the anti-bin tax campaign, which was unsuccessful. More relevant is the 1994, 5 and 6 anti-water charges campaign. This was a campaign of non-payment and mass involvement in the Dublin County Council and Waterford areas. In November 1994 disconnections began. The campaign turned the water back on. From the campaign there was a focus on halting the disconnections and creating a need for the authorities to go to court before any disconnections. The campaign got lawyers and organised protests outside the court hearings. The authorities began to use the debt-collecting laws.

There was a bye election in Dublin West. The campaign backed a candidate on the issue who almost won. Yet the campaign was mainly based on mass non-payment. In December 1996 the government announced the abolition of water taxes.

There may be a need for an anti-metering campaign. And now there is the septic tank charge – another tax on workers.

The left has initiated the campaign, as in the 90s. The left will be central to it but the campaign must become a campaign of massive people power. Tens of thousands of ordinary people need to be involved in the camping. It needs to be democratically run and inclusive.

The trade union leadership is in hiding. Therefore this campaign can become a major expression of the anger about and opposition to austerity and the bail-outs. There is a lot at stake in the campaign.

The conference was then opened up to speakers from the floor

Speaker 1: there’s a need for a community based campaign. There should be no groups set up by political organisations, claiming to represent the campaign.

Michael Taft (UNITE trade union): brought greeting from Jimmy Kelly, Regional Secretary of UNITE.

Speaker 3 (describing himself as a property owner): these taxes follow from the Lisbon Treaty. EU rules must be changed.

John McNulty (Socialist Democracy): spoke of the rent and rates strike in the North. Non-payment is a tactic. It is not strategic. The main thing is to smite social partnership. The water tax is part of the privatisation of services.

O’C (West Donegal): the proposed charge on septic tanks should also be a part of the campaign. How will the campaign work with politicians opposed to the taxes but not for not paying?

Speaker 6 (Workers Solidarity Movement): people have less money than in the ‘90s. So it should be easier to argue that people should not pay these charges.

Speaker 7 (Independent Workers Union): In this campaign we should spit out the labels; rise above party banners and egos. To get people involved we must provide a platform without party banners and egoists.

Joan Collins TD (People before Profit Alliance/United Left Alliance): We need to give confidence to people not to pay. We need a well-organised campaign. Not paying is a serious step. The campaign should be strong enough to defend people who do not pay.

Kieran Allen (Education Branch, SIPTU, and Socialist Workers Party): It is necessary to convince people that the charges will go up. The ESRI has said that it is likely that the Household tax could go up to €1 billion per year from the initial €160 million. In relation to those (really Sinn Féin) who would oppose non-payment, this campaign should aim to convince them of our position. In relation to the trade unions, UNITE is on board. In SIPTU the leaders are saying they are opposed to the taxes if they are not done in a progressive way. It is important to win SIPTU to opposition to the taxes. This should be an issue at the Union’s conference in October. He referred to a second meeting of SIPTU activists, for a grassroots group in the Union, on 19th September.

After three months arrears there is to be a charge of an extra €10 per month. To build a base for non-payment there is a need to mobilise on the streets. He referred to two demonstrations at the Dáil on 14th September, by the campaign on Special Needs in schools and by ‘Enough!’.

Speaker 10: asked how the €10 surcharge was to be collected; as a direct debit? She said she has never aid the bin tax and she will not be paying these taxes.

Kevin Keating (Socialist Democracy): the water charges were part of the privatisation of water. This is part of the IMF/EU/ECB deal. He spoke of the Croke Park Agreement and of wider issues being linked to the new charges.

Paul Murphy MEP (Socialist Party): There will be massive propaganda from the government to pay. It will be said that there is only €2 per week to pay, there will be a campaign of fear against non-payment and it will be claimed that the charges are central to economic recovery and the IMF/EU/ECB deal. The campaign’s response to these can be that the charges will increase, that a strong campaign can be built to protect non-payers and that austerity doesn’t work and will not bring recovery.

He referred to an article by Michael Taffe and the general case that cuts weakened the economy. The €100 per annum charge would, for instance, eat into the discretionary income of €70 per month which many thousands of people are limited to. €160 million per year from the water tax is €160 million less being spent in the economy. Meanwhile the 300 richest people in the country earned a total of €6 billion extra last year.

Dave Keating (Cork, Socialist Party): We are now paying for the bank bail-outs. There are other new taxes too. There’s to be a toll on the Jack Lynch tunnel in Cork. He referred to the ESRI’s estimates of how the charges will rise: the €100 Household charge rising to €700 to €800 per year. And this would go to pay of the debts of Anglo-Irish Bank.

M. Johansen (SWP): The way to overcome the fears of people about not paying is to build a strong campaign in every estate. The campaign should reach out to include migrant workers as the cuts are hitting them particularly.

Mary Smith (SWP): The other side are not so cocky. Some people going into Bertie Ahern’s birthday party at Croke Park were hiding their heads. There is a background of real anger. We should always link these charges with the bails-outs and the demand to cancel the debt. Attention should be paid to giving confidence to people, and mass mobilisations are a way of giving confidence to people.

Eugene McDonagh (SWP): the campaign again the bus cuts in Dublin has saved eight bus routes. These are being reviewed. The public got behind the campaign; it occupied the Dublin Bus head office. There is a need for the union leaders to get behind us. The Household and Water Tax campaign should be a lively, vibrant campaign too.

Speaker 11 (Dundrum ACRA): In 1968-69 ACRA fought the ground rents and rates campaigns. The water charges campaign in the ‘90s was successful; this should give confidence. He had fought the bin tax campaign too. His bins were confiscated. The Campaign needs to have a strategy, and to distinguish this from tactics. We need to make it a broad front, including independent TDs, smaller parties and union leaders.

Cian Prendiville (Socialist Party, Limerick): Spoke of the Seven Ps: ‘Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance’. We have three months now to plan and build a campaign. We need propaganda now. For instance that the charges will rise and rise. They are saying €160 million now, but this will rise. This €160 million is equivalent to the cut in employer’s PRSI. In August €415 million was paid out to the banks’ bondholders. We need soldiers, people in the communities, not union leaders or union motions. Our weapon is non-payment.

Cllr. Ruth Coppinger (Socialist Party): the charges will escalate; the €100 per year is a forerunner to higher taxes. It is linked to the general transfer of wealth from working people upwards. We can fight these taxes because they are discretionary payments. Other taxes are taken out of wages. It is also a universal tax. These are regressive taxes; everyone pays the same regardless of income.

Non-payment is crucial to the Campaign. This need to be stressed in relation to Labour and Sinn Féin, and people from those parties. It is the cornerstone of this campaign. There is no need for votes at meetings, as has been suggested, for to decide if the local campaign supports non-payment or not. If people don’t agree with non-payment the Campaign is not for them.

The campaign needs to build confidence, building on the ground, door-to door, and do this before mass mobilisations on the streets.

Speaker 12 (Waterford, Socialist Party): meetings on the charges have been enthusiastic but there are a lot of unemployed people out there. There is massive power in a movement of people. Revolution is sweeping through the world. This campaign should be one of the left unity with the people; it is how to build a left movement. There is a need to stick together.

Thos Hogan (Waterford, SWP): In 1983 Waterford and the South campaigned against a water tax. We went through that through the ‘90s. The people of the region were on their own then, but now it’s a national issue. The key is mass mobilisation of people rather than a campaign run by the left groups. The campaign is looking for passive resistance, people keeping their money. It is not like a strike. So, we need to keep the organisation going. In Waterford people simply don’t have the money to pay.

Emmett Farrell (Socialist Party): About the €2 per week charge, as how it is being presented. This €100 a year represents €200,000 from an estate of 2000 houses. We should point out what €200,000 would do for that estate in a year. And that this is money that will be handed over to the banks and speculators. It is likely that the rates support grant to local authorities will be cut in December. These will say they need the new taxes to fund services and jobs. So SIPTU and IMPACT need to be onside; the ranks of IMPACT in particular.

Cllr Bríd Smith (PBPA, SWP) summed up this session from the platform:

Ireland has the highest home ownership in Europe. So these charges will have an impact across communities. Minister Phil Hogan will be claiming that this is a tax for local services. There will be the stick and the appeal to civic duty, the need to fund the fire brigade, etc. The levies and income cuts were involuntary. Here we are opposing voluntary austerity. People can say “fuck off!”.

We lost the bin tax campaign, but there are networks still there that we can re-energise. The bin campaign was the first time in many areas that people organised and fought. And no-one was put in prison for not paying. It was rather for blocking bin trucks by some activists. Dublin City Council is about to privatise bin collection.

Phil Hogan will be presenting the new charges as modest, but the ESRI have let it out that they will rise substantially. They are an unfair flat tax. Water is an international issue. There have been battles elsewhere about it and privatisations are being reversed.

This meeting is a great start. We should be aware of the weakness of the other side. When parents campaigning against the cuts in Special Needs Assistants went to Labour Party clinics recently the Labour Party representatives said they won’t touch SNAs. All of the protests, including those on Wednesday (14th) at the Dáil, should be linked together. There was a march to the Dáil on SNAs at 4pm and a protest at the Dáil at 6 pm.

Malachy Steenson, bringing this session to a close, said that this fight can be won, but only if the campaign has the broad involvement of ordinary people.

The second session was on organisational methods for the campaign and was chaired by Cllr. Ciaran Perry. He said that organisation was vital. The Campaign should avail of the lessons of the bin campaign mistakes. We should get communities, ordinary people involved. This is the first time in the present crisis that people can decide whether to pay or not. Our job is to convince them. There is not much time to build the campaign, only until about 1st January.

Gregor Kerr (WSM) opened the second session: He said that many present have experienced campaigns. But we also need to simplify. The campaign is not just leaders. It needs mass involvement by hundreds of thousands. The combined forces of the left are on the back foot. We need to go beyond that. The audience must become players. Local organisers are needed. There is a debilitating tradition of clientelism. We need to go out of our way to build campaigns in local areas. We need to be honest with people; not offering a service. Get some people involved from the first public meetings. There are lessons to be learned from the water and bin tax campaigns before. In some areas the bin tax campaign has left a legacy of bitterness.

There was an initial meeting of the left groups earlier this year. An interim co-ordinating committee was set up. The campaign began from political activists. It must move from a coalition of the left to a confederation of local campaigns. The interim co-ordinating committee should make itself redundant.

We don’t want meetings of the campaign called by political organisations to the exclusion of others, so that the groups in each area become associated with a political organisation. Therefore before the initial local public meeting a private meeting of all local political activists will be held. [In Dublin the committee has divided the city into areas of organisation according to 26 wards.] The Campaign must be open and democratic and not seen to be manipulated or to have hidden agendas. It is important that the campaign group in any area not be the domain of any political organisation. This has been accepted by all organisations on the interim co-ordinating committee [applause].

The public meeting in the areas will have the first half for arguments about the issues, and the second half on organisation. They should aim to draw people into involvement.

There will be a non-payment pledge which people can sign. The campaign can begin by knocking on doors to ask people to sign up. We should get people from the local public meeting to do this. A campaign newsletter is important, both a local and a national one [Gregor had copies of a mock-up for distribution to the meeting]. A web site was being worked on. It is easier to produce material now than for earlier campaigns. Before we even worked without mobile phones! An aim should be to get a poster in every window. So a person will know, ‘I’m not the odd one out’. Generating unity is strength. In each area there needs to be a regular open meeting of the campaign. This should be advertised in the newsletter. This needs to happen everywhere.

This is the start of a national campaign. The organisers are suggesting that the meeting elect an interim steering group. This would send people around. We need to travel as well as work in our area. It is proposed to have a national conference of the campaign in the New Year. A conference called on a non-payment basis. We have to build the strategies for defending non payers. We will win. That is how to talk to Sinn Féin, etc. To offer assurance that non-payment can win.

The second speaker was Micheál Mac Giolla Easbaig (Donegal, Eirígí):

In Donegal they are fighting the water and household taxes as well as the septic tank charge. It is a broad campaign, not led by one political party. It cannot be fought by the left alone. We have knocked on doors, started to organise meetings. Talking to people we have found that the septic tank charge is a bigger issue in the region. There have been about fifteen people at each meeting. It was agreed to fight on a no-pay basis. Sinn Féin are strong in Donegal; it is unfortunate that Sinn Féin is not fighting on a no-pay basis. The national campaign should take on the septic tank issue.

The conference was then opened up to speakers from the floor

Mick Barry (Cork, Socialist Party): Gregor’s introduction was excellent. From the experience in Cork he would advocate firstly that there would be local meetings. It is not necessary to knock on all doors. If going to the doors it is necessary to have a good amount of leaflets beforehand. A national newsletter would be a great boost. As regards having a membership pledge that people would sign, he would hesitate about this at this stage. We could look at producing window and car stickers. A membership card would be good, with, say, a €5 membership fee. He would have hesitation about collecting money at doors. But the local campaign should think ‘fund your own campaign’. Demonstrations have their place, but he would not be sure about the possibility of massive demos in Cork this side of Christmas. The priority should be to hold local meetings, putting leaflets out and calling to doors. If there is the option of a good demo, have that as well maybe.

Richard Boyd Barrett TD (Dun Laoghaire, PBPA, SWP): He agreed with Gregor Kerr; that we have learnt from previous battles. We need campaign groups estate-by estate. Often the left will take on responsibility; this encourages a view that the left will ‘do it for them’. The campaign must involve people. There should be a steering group in Dun Laoghaire with representatives from all estates.

Demonstrations are not a substitute for organisation, but demonstrations can be a part of giving people confidence about the strength of the campaign. Numbers give confidence. In the unions cracks are beginning to open up between the Labour Party union leaders and workers. People are asking is the leadership a leadership. It is up to the campaign to get in there and to offer some. He urged people to attend the ‘Enough!’ demonstration at the Dáil on the following Wednesday 14th.

Cllr. Pat Dunne (DCC, PBPA): People are worried about not paying. Critical mass is needed to assure them. In the bin tax campaign at the public meetings people were asked to take responsibility for organising their roads. This can be matched. Then we can go around the doors. There should be membership cards and money collected. This a campaign to win.

Dublin City Council has agreed to sell bin collection to the private sector. This is exactly what we said would happen following bin charges.

James O’Toole (SWP): Agreed that the working class must have ownership of the campaign. There must be democracy and the mobilisation of people. Put the issues to a vote at meetings. No-one is counterposing mass mobilisation to non-payment. People will want to protest, occupy, etc. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

John Lyons (SWP): there has already been a stall in Dublin North East on the issues. There has been great support for opposition to the household and water charges. The left is small but we can have public meetings everywhere. We need to hit the ground running and in every county. It is natural that there may be mobilisation and demonstrations in the three months of December to February after the new cuts in the budget.

Paul B (WSM): We can apply organising models from elsewhere too. It’s not just a matter of knocking on doors on a street. People will agree, but that doesn’t mean they’ll move. The numbers in crowds is not mobilisation. We need to get away from republican politics.

Annette Mooney (SWP): If there are no dates for demonstrations and meetings how will the campaign move forward? We need a strategy. To point out to people the costs of these charges, and what radical action is planned.

Cllr. Mick Murphy (Socialist Party): Non-payment is not just a tactic. It is a strategy: a mass campaign of civil disobedience. Anyone who comes along and doesn’t agree with that should be told, ‘Don’t bother to get involved’. It suits the campaign that the whole country is being taken into the charges this time. The target should be one million people not paying by the end of next year. The previous water charges campaign won.

Mick Wayne (Socialist Party): Confidence is the key to this battle. Now we need to convince people. Where it is a matter of confidence posters and demonstrations have a place, yes. However, the bedrock of the campaign is non-payment. They are not counterposed. In the poll tax campaign in Britain the marches got strength from non-payment, not the other way round.

Martin O’Sullivan (SWP): There are differences of emphasis. The main tactic is civil disobedience, non-payment. The establishment will present different arguments for the water and household charges. For water they will plead that the charges are for conservation. For the household tax they will claim it is for to pay for local services.

Claire Daly TD (Socialist Party): The campaign must be rooted in the community. And in non-payment. The charges are a national assault. So we need to take the campaign outside Dublin. She suggested taking volunteers for the coordinating committee for now rather than having an election. An aim would be to have a national convention in the New Year. Membership cards would help people to identify with the campaign.

Speaker 13 (Donegal): There is to be/was a picket of Dinny McGinley’s office in Gweedore on the charges. Groups are starting up around Donegal.

Eddie (Fingal): Demonstrations are essential, so people know about the campaign. A fighting fund should be set up, to which people can give what they can.

Speaker 10: We must make people realise they are part of the campaign, and that they need to get out and fight.

Speaker 14 (Donegal): What is the position of the Forum on the septic tanks charge?

Mags Glennon (Mullingar): the septic tanks charges should be taken up by the campaign. We should be aware that Marian Harkin may take this issue up. Eamon Ó Cúiv has said he would go to jail against the tank charges. Phil Hogan may already be backtracking as he has said the septic tanks tax would be a registration charge. The campaign should put a briefing document on the septic tank charge on its website. There is an analogy for rural areas between the septic tank and the turf cutting issues. Let’s not forget that the British poll tax is still there. Its name has been changed to the Council Tax.

Diarmuid Breatnach: the working class are not the only ones suffering and paying these charges. We have potential allies across society. The political parties are saying here that they are not putting themselves first. A test of this would that on demonstrations there would be no party names displayed.

Joe Higgins TD (Socialist Party): he agreed with Gregor Kerr’s introduction. The co-ordinating committee had identified 26 areas in Dublin. There would be a campaign group in each area. First there would be a private meeting of the left in the area to discuss and plan the campaign; a plan that is democratically decided and implemented. Accounting for the finances of the campaign is important.

On October 27th there will be a bye-election in Dublin West. Ruth Coppinger will be standing for the Socialist Party and the United Left Alliance. The household and water taxes will be an issue. People are invited to help in that election campaign. It is planned too, at the instigation of the ULA TD’s, to have a pre-Budget initiative, a mobilisation before the budget (on all the cuts and issues) with country wide involvement.

Nicola Curry (PBPA, SWP): There is to be a website for which you register to pay the taxes. There could be a preliminary campaign against registration, with the slogan ‘Don’t Click!’

Donal McC (IWU, Cork): Politicians may jump on the campaign bandwagon. Sinn Féin is sitting on the fence about these taxes. If the campaign takes off Sinn Féin might jump in. The government are backing down on the projected €300 septic tank inspection charge, which is now to be a €50 ‘nominal fee’ for registration.

Peter Clohessy: Recent protests against the cuts have been small and insignificant. We need to think out a way to get more people at these protests. To think out a strategy.

Gregor Kerr (WSM) summed up this session from the platform:

The web site should be set up soon. It should be public and private, informing the public but with pages for the campaign and for local campaign news. We need articles to be written for it. And report of local meetings. Leaflets, newsletters, etc are required. It has been agreed to start with a national newsletter. There will be templates of leaflets and newsletters on the website.

The membership pledge and card should be ready early. They are important to get the campaign established.  In relation to the demonstrations debate his own position was that he has no problem with mass demonstrations – if they are mass demonstrations. And not just a few people.

What’s the radical strategy for winning? It’s not to pay! It’s the most logical form of direct action.

He disagrees with the point made of ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ or ‘let them at it’ as it applies to organising in the areas. We need proper structures.

Interjection from James O’Toole: I thought you were an anarchist.

Gregor Kerr: I will debate anarchism with James anytime. We can’t have people calling meetings, setting up groups in the name of the campaign. The political organisations on the interim co-ordinating committee have agreed an approach.

We can’t say ‘don’t pay’ and in twelve months not be there. We need to be serious.

Cllr. Ciaran Perry brought the Conference to a close with some announcements and a call for a mass campaign and for all to get involved in the hard work ahead, especially in their own communities.

Note: though there was a  mention earlier from the platform that there would be elections to the interim coordinating committee, and then a suggestion from the floor to augment the committee with volunteers from the meeting, the conference ended without such additions being made or further mention of it from the platform (DD).

Written by tomasoflatharta

Sep 19, 2011 at 1:52 am

One Response

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  1. Hi,i am apolitical and am relieved in reading the above- this campaign needs to succeed,but i feel one most salient point is being missed above and this is: – the right to private ownership! if you own your house why should you pay somebody else (state) for the privilige of living in it- this property tax is an attack on private ownership, pure and simple.We are being bullied by the EU.As for water charges and septic tank charges, those living in rural areas by and large dont receive either service from the Local Authorities and as such should not have to pay these spurious charges-if the Govt didn’t implement the EU directive correctly why should it’s people pay for this incompetence.People need to unite against the payment of these charges.Well done to date and keep up the good work.

    John Agar

    Dec 13, 2011 at 9:36 pm

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