For the first time in seven bitter years, we are witnessing serious opposition to Government policies that have made ordinary folk pay for an economic crisis they did not create. This resistance did not come from within the Dáil. It emerged through actions taken completely outside of the parliamentary process arising from the formation of the Right2Water campaign in opposition to water charges.
And there is little doubt that the Government is facing defeat. This is not wishful thinking on the part of Insider, it is based on a number of factors: the resistance being shown to the installation of water meters in Galway estates and throughout the Republic; the hugely positive response to Right2Water Galway canvassers’ 'Don’t pay, Don’t register' message on the doorsteps and at street meetings; and the mass turnout in Dublin two weeks ago. It all shows this is truly a national phenomenon.
The root of Right2Water’s success is the involvement of the trade unions – Mandate, Unite, and more recently the TEEU. The trade union pillar of this broad-based group ensures things are run professionally. No political party was allowed to hijack the movement, as was the case with the property tax campaign. Any 'coup' attempt by these same ultra-leftists was nipped in the bud at the very outset of Right2Water.
This group of trade unions proved their worth by winning the backing of the ICTU despite the outright opposition of SIPTU leader and Labourite Jack O’Connor. The trade unions involved have also been shrewd enough not to allow too many national demonstrations that might cause burnout amongst the general populace.
However, one would imagine if the trade unions were involved nationally in opposition to the water tax, then it would also be the case in Galway. Not so. Despite invitations to the trade union movement by Right2Water Galway to join the campaign there is no official trade union involvement. The Galway Council of Trade Unions is nowhere to be seen. It suffers from Stockholm Syndrome having been too long a captive of the Labour Party. Its lack of involvement was highlighted by the Belfast Trades Council’s participation in the last massive Dublin demonstration.
Right2Water Galway is a genuinely broad grouping but its success can be put down to the initial groundwork of People Before Profit and its willingness to have a truly inclusive approach to organisation. Local politicians are not excluded, but they are not given pride of place, which might explain that, apart from Cllr Mairéad Farrell, no other politician from Galway attended the Dublin demo.
The effectiveness of peaceful street politics has highlighted the inadequacies within the parliamentary system. We have come to see that elections actually do not change anything. The policies implemented by the Fianna Fail-Green-PD coalition are the exact same as those carried out by today’s ruling Fine Gael-Labour administration. No wonder then, that voters are increasingly turning to real Independent candidates, who have proved to be a people’s voice in the Dáil. This development can only bode well for the election prospects of Galway city councillor Catherine Connolly, who has stuck to her principles even when she seemed to be swimming against the tide. Her consistent opposition to the Galway bypass is a case in point.
However, the Dáil has an uncanny ability to 'domesticate' radicals from political parties once they join the parliamentary fold. Galwegian Eamon Gilmore entered Leinster House a lean “revolutionary Marxist-Leninist” from the Workers’ Party and will retire at the next election at best a right-wing Social Democrat with a big fat pension.
The EU - no longer a community, but an economy
As the recent Greece debacle showed, this is not the only problem facing parliamentary democracy and the Irish Left. The EU and the European Central Bank have more power than most EU governments. Thanks to Brussels and Frankfurt, Syriza was forbidden from carrying out its people-friendly policies.
Like Syriza, the majority on the Galway and Irish Left view the EU positively. This erroneous understanding of the EU stems from a belief that at its core its goal is a “social Europe”. This is primarily based on the progressive women’s equality legislation that the State had to introduce after it joined “the community”. In truth, the so-called “fathers” of the “European project” did not willingly grant these rights. Progress was only achieved in the more industrialised European nations through many decades of struggle by the working class movement. Another factor was that these rights were from the outset a standard feature of the socialist countries of Eastern Europe.
Now after seven years of grinding austerity, the only thing “social” about the EU is the Social Fund, recently topped up to cater for the 1.3 million extra unemployed anticipated by the EU Commission if the TTIP trade deal is implemented. Naturally, corporate profits will boom as a result of a vicious round of de-regulation and privatisation – which is what the deal is all about.
And thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is currently negotiating the TTIP and TISA trade deals on our behalf, which pose a real threat to our right to water. Also it has emerged that as part of the ‘bailout’ process, the EU Commission demands privatisation of water as a ‘conditionality’. We cannot ignore these realities!
As for the “bailout” imposed by the EU, it has resulted in Government debt doubling since 2009 from €104 billion, to an unsustainable €210 billion. Our annual interest payments have trebled to €7.3 billion, 20 per cent of all Government taxes. EU-driven cuts haven’t gone away you know.
It is fitting, therefore, that the national Right2Water group is broadening its campaign to oppose austerity. However, like those standing on a Left platform at the next election, it will need to prepare for conflict with Brussels and Frankfurt if it intends to genuinely challenge the existing order. Slagging off the straw man that is the Oireachtas, while remaining silent about Brussels, which now is the source of almost 75 per cent of our laws, is simply pointless.
It is high time the demand for the return of powers to national governments was made. This is not narrow nationalism. It is independence and self-determination. It is the only way to counter the EU neo-liberal agenda that imposes permanent austerity. There is no more significant independent economic power than control of one’s own currency. This was underlined last week at the banking inquiry when Minister for Finance Michael Noonan retold how the Government was forbidden from burning any bondholders by the ECB. Instead, the Irish people were landed with an unsustainable debt that will mean permanent hardship.
If this new wave of street politics is to succeed then it will have to realise that a “social Europe” is a myth, and that the Euro is the chain which ties us to austerity. If this is not faced up to the campaign will become like Syriza in Greece - history.