The May Day Conference initiated by the Right2Water Trade Unions was designed to bring union members, community groups and political representatives into dialogue about an alternative to the political and economic establishment. We welcome the fact that these unions initiated such a meeting to build a political movement based on the anti-water charges struggle of the last eight months. Unfortunately, the meeting was a limited and invite-only event, without sufficient space for discussion.
Open up and democratise the June 13 conference To best achieve the potential for this movement, we believe that the process needs to be opened up and democratised. Without grassroots participation, any political initiative will lack the energy and vibrancy needed to challenge the political establishment. So we think the follow up conference on June 13 should have delegates invited from all of the community groups campaigning against water charges, selected over the coming weeks at local meetings.
On June 13, the conference must also be designed to allow genuine debate and maximum inclusion. In place of structured inputs from selected speakers, the event should be bottom-up and participatory. It should be designed to allow as many contributions as possible and allow for decisions to be made by those present.
For an anti-austerity, anti-coalition approach – based on struggle To initiate the debate, the R2W unions have developed a document entitled, Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government. The basis of the Principles document is a series of seven economic and social rights. The R2W unions have asked for “further discussion and input”. In responding to this call, we believe that a number of additions and amendments need to be made.
Firstly, any proposed political initiative must not become a replacement for the grassroots struggles that have brought us to this point. In relation to water charges, the document proposes that “Irish Water PLC’ and domestic water charges will be abolished within the first 100 days of a government endorsing this policy”.
We must not wait for a progressive government to abolish water charges. What if such a government is not elected? Abolition can only be won by an organised boycott and continuing the protest movement on the streets. People power and protest is the only way to beat austerity measures and the best way to build support for the actions of any future left government.
We think the 13 June conference should make a public statement calling for mass non-payment of the water charges. This is the crucial stage of the campaign and the crucial question. It would be negligent if a major conference of large sections of the anti-water charges movement takes place and does not issue a call for people not to pay. Instead of giving confidence to the movement and impetus to continue organising and mobilising, it can give the impression that the only focus now is the election.
Secondly, any Principles document must rule out coalition with Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour. These parties have had many opportunities to protect the interests of working people and they have failed repeatedly.
Coalition with Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour would be disastrous for any political movement that wants real change. It would mean managing an economic system which operates against the interests of the majority, instead of organising to resist attacks against working people and building a movement to replace that system. The result would be sell-out and disappointment for people.
Thirdly, implementing the rights proposed in the R2W document will require an expansion of public spending. We must ensure that the cost of providing these rights is placed on the wealthy, speculators and big business as opposed to more taxation of working people, which should be reduced. Meeting the rights outlined requires a programme which clearly breaks from the logic of austerity and the domination of profit, which is inherent in capitalism.
Opposition to austerity should not stop at the border. We think austerity must be fought both in the North and the South. The implementation of Westminster cuts by Stormont is no more acceptable than the implementation of Troika cuts by the government in the South.
Breaking with austerity policies will immediately bring a progressive government into conflict with the EU elites as we are currently seeing in Greece. In order to withstand this pressure the Principles document must also commit to protecting working people, even if it means breaking the rules of the Eurozone and EU treaties.
Currently the document calls for “A European Debt Conference to restructure sovereign debt throughout the Eurozone”. This will neither be possible nor sufficient. Syriza also called for a Debt Conference prior to their election only to be denied it by the EU establishment.
In the face of these bully-boy tactics, the founding principles of any new, progressive political movement must include a strategy of debt repudiation, including the option of unilateral debt cancelation if the Troika continues to reject a write-off of debt from the financial collapse. The alternative is to keep implementing austerity to satisfy the Troika. It should also commit to breaking the rules of the Fiscal Treaty, which is a charter for indefinite austerity.
Campaign against discrimination and oppression
Finally, the Principles document of any new left movement cannot only deal with economic issues, but must also deal with issues of oppression in Irish society. It is necessary to campaign for separation of church and state with regard to social legislation and the education and healthcare systems. This includes fighting for full LGBTQ rights and an end to all discrimination. It also means fighting for repeal of the 8th amendment and for the right to abortion in Ireland. It must also commit to repeal the Industrial Relations Act which makes it hard for working people to take effective action.
It must commit to abolishing the direct provision system for asylum seekers and take a stand against racism and discrimination of all sorts. The movement should take a clear stand in opposition to the policy of Fortress Europe responsible for the deaths of thousands in the Mediterranean.
In summary, we think the 13 June conference should:
- be open and democratic, inviting delegates from all campaigns against the water charge;
- explicitly reject any coalition with Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour;
- openly call for non-payment of the water charges
- have a principled anti-austerity approach of repudiating the bankers’ debts and supporting public investment to meet the needs of people, the environment and create decent jobs;
- campaign against oppression and for democratic rights, including LGBTQ equality, for repeal of the 8th Amendment and oppose racism and the scapegoating of minorities.
Signed: Paul Murphy TD, Ruth Coppinger TD, Joe Higgins TD, Eileen Gabbett and Joe Harrington on behalf of the Anti-Austerity Alliance; Richard Boyd Barrett TD, Cllr. Brid Smyth, Cllr. John Lyons, Ailbhe Smyth and Brian O’Boyle on behalf of the People Before Profit Alliance; Cllr Brendan Young; Eddie Conlon; Pat Waine