Report on the Anti-Bin Tax Conference December 6th

by Emmett Farrell - personal capacity Sunday, Dec 7 2003

The conference of anti-bin tax campaigns was the first opportunity since the charge was introduced in these council areas for the campaigns to meet and discuss strategy and tactics.

Notes taken at Anti-Bin Tax Conference

Dublin City, Fingal, South Dublin, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Campaigns Central Hotel

Saturday December 6th 2003: Conference started at 12.30 am

Attendance – 90- 100 delegates. Room full throughout. Activists representing all areas.

Mick O’Reilly was invited to chair conference and introduced the agenda with some introductory remarks.

‘When trade union movement set out to change the tax system our intent was that Revenue would take the same but that who pays would be different.

Now banks, hotels and wealthy individuals have taxes reduced 30% to10% while services cut and worst kind of stealth taxes have been introduced –such as bin tax. Trade Union movement must take up this issue.

Advise that campaigns must have a goal – would be significant achievement for campaigns/left to win majority against the charges in local elections.

We need real local government –currently councils being run by managers. Need a majority on Dublin Councils of parties of the left. Such an alliance would not mean abolishing differences –we need discussion on this topic.

Reports made by representatives from the four campaigns in the Dublin Council areas.

Joe Mooney reported from Dublin City Campaign.

Six months since Dail overthrew the legal obligation to collect refuse irrespective of whether bin charge paid or not. Since non-collection attempted in Fingal in September, Dublin City Campaign continual activity. City Manager then stated that he would begin non-payment in the more affluent areas and by end November would have worked all around the city picking off the weaker areas. Partially successful.

Dublin 4and 6delivered from Rathmines depot. First attempts to impose non-collection in Mount Tallant – nearHarolds Cross – and Ringsend. Mount Tallant weakly organised on fringe of campaign. Despite attempts by campaigners from outside to sustain non payment which involved blockades, injunctions and jailings, this area effectively lost to the campaign. In Ringsend where area more organised and where people came out onto streets the bins were lifted and the message from this is that where there is local organisation and where people come out onto the streets, that the workers will continue to lift the bins of non-payers.

The scene shifted then to North East where areas served from Collins Avenue depot such as Clontarf initially and then Donaghamede, Donnycarney and Coolock and Raheny were threatened by non-collection, again where it was possible to get people out onto the streets as the bins were being collected, the workers continued to collect all bins.

The role of the media has been disgraceful –only interested when campaigns tactics were able to be sensationalised.

The blockades on October14th/15th were the only possible response to the jailings and were hugely successful in bringing national attention to the issue. The campaigns stepped back from a position of strength and put it up to the ICTU leadership to get a resolution. ICTU’s bluff was called. While the campaign pulled back, the other side continued to bring people to court and to seek jailings. ICTU who had condemned the tactics of the campaign offered no alternative. We wrote to ICTU and they responded saying they would consider our letter. [Nothing further has been heard from ICTU’s leaders after two months.]

The figures for non-payment received through the FOI request by Joan Collins were given –

  1. 2003 Total billed 164,136 %
  2. 2003 Waivers 39,500 24.06
  3. 2003 Paid in full for 2001, 2002, 2003 48,927 29.80
  4. 2003 Paid Nothing 30,000 18.27
  5. 2003 Paid something from introduction of charge to 31.12.02 45,709 27.84
29.8% only had paid in full for the three years in Dublin City and non-payment was holding up well despite the vicious campaign of intimidation by the Councils and the government

Mick Murphy reported for the South Dublin Campaign.

This week two years ago the campaign first meeting following estimates. Had a solid base of activists from the anti-water charges campaign – in Tallaght, Clondalkin,Lucan and Firhouse. We have managed to build basic organisation throughout the council area.

Round one is over in South Dublin. The charge is € 190 and basic calculation will show the claims/boasts of the Council management re their success is false. Council claims that €10.5 million has been received for the two years 2002/2003.

There are 73,000 houses and we estimate no more than 10% entitled to a waiver. At € 190 per house, 65,700 houses over two years this equates to €25 million. And the non-payment level is 58%.

The councils attempts to tag non-payers bins indicate very high non-payment. In Springfield for example almost 100% of bins were tagged and the level of non-payment was indicated to be high in Knocklyon and Firhouse also. The council used litter wardens to indicate non-payers and to tag bins but were not able to impose non-payment.

Round 1 is over. The Council is indicating that they will send you a confirmation that you have paid in the post and you will stick this on the bin and also a € 6 tag – if these on bin it will be collected. Otherwise no collection.

Round 2 is coming anytime from January 1st 2004 and we have to prepare.

Richard Boyd Barrett reported from the Dun Laoghaire part of Dun Laoire Rathdown.

The charge was introduced first in Dun Laoire Rathdown Council. As usual no councillor stated in their election literature that they would vote for the introduction of a bin tax but the bin tax was supported by FF, FG, PDs [Greens ?]. Bin charge is at €275 now and non-payers owe up to € 855 in arrears.

During four years continual mass meetings have been held to inform residents as to what is happening. Non-payment has increased over the four years.

Our figures from Council indicate 62,500 houses and that € 22 million outstanding. Council claims that they received € 3 million in September/October. This leaves €19 million arrears. We estimate that the average arrears is between € 275 and € 855. Rough average is €500. These figures indicate that 38,000 owe on average € 500 equivalent to € 19 million.

The Council state that 8,000 waivers were granted and that 25% of houses are entitled to a waiver. This figure is questionable since it implies that 25% of the households in Dun Laoghaire are fully dependant on social welfare but of course we know that the number of waivers claimed are being used to build the payment figures.

In the recent past, since September, we have had mass meetings of over 250 in seven areas and during the height of the struggle groups of residents of between 30 to 50 monitored the bin collection in about 20 estates over a month.

In a few – five – affluent areas non-collection has been attempted.. in two areas, people have stymied non-collection by throwing the refuse into the back of the truck.

We understand that Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council will try tagging in two pilot areas in 2004 and that they are planning a sizeable increase in the charge.

We have a big activist base and will impose blockades in the New Year if non-collection attempted. Initially we plan a round of mass meetings linking the issue of bin tax to all the stealth taxes and privatisation.

We propose a City wide demo against the bin tax to coincide with the February 20th EU meeting on privatisation in Dublin and we are in favour of building an alliance to stand in the local elections in June.

Lisa Maher reported for the Rathdown section of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown.

Now going into five years. With arrears of € 855 our chant ‘No Way, We Won’t Pay’ has become ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay.

Strong activists base 80-90 people at meetings. We have had 18 people injuncted and 10 go to Court but no jailings as yet.

Unlike the reports from the other council areas, the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council seems to take more laid back approach. During the attempts at non-collection, the county Architect was used to point out the bins to be left behind.

This is frustrating – week in and week out waiting for them to attempt non-collection in strong working class areas.

Non clear what will happen. One the one hand the Councils will want to end this and defeat the campaigns before the local elections but they also need the money and will be forced to continue to try to impose non-collection.

Clare Daly reported for the Fingal campaign.

In Fingal wholesale non-collection has been imposed. FCC learned from the water charge battle – Fingal probably the strongest organised during that campaign – FCC prepared to be patient.

They opted for the tag system and a clever campaign along the lines ‘You only pay for what you want to throw away’ . € 3 and € 5 tags are very different to € 855 arrears if you want to get the build-up of rubbish removed.

Two years ago in January 2002, €500,000 had been spent when Joe Higgins and CD had won a case in High court forcing the FCC to continue to collect all bins. This discredited the FCC with residents.

Most council areas had been well organised following mass meetings, membership and leafleting networks. Residents knew through the campaign what FCC could and could not do. They knew that if they sold their houses they could not be billed.

Twenty staff –other than bin workers- were full-time occupied with tag system. Crucially the Council aided by Siptu broke the bin workers.

The union leadership battered the workers to accept a very bad deal. [The workers were threatened that the campaign would cause privatisation] The deal in which 16 jobs were lost, the number of bins to be collected increased from 1200 to 1600 and a 30% pay cut was accepted.

When FF/PD changed the law in July, the FCC were immediately in position to move on non-collection using the tag system and having no opposition from Impact or SIPTU leadership.

On September 10th, the campaign in Fingal had a choice – capitulate or fight. We fought.

The campaign held up through blockades, injunctions, courts and jailings. FCC deployed decoy trucks, unionised council staff acted as spies in attempts to defeat the campaign. Within 10 days people had been jailed.

The response and actions of the DNCC campaigns were very important in inspiring the Council workers in Dublin City who were not broken [and who refused to obey the commands of their union leaders.]

The Councils have had to retreat from their programme to impose non-collection but this is only to regroup. Again the media are deliberately ignoring the significance of the campaign.

Since September, the FCC have increased the numbers of bins being tagged for collection but it would be a big mistake to think that this tax has been accepted in the Fingal County Council area.

Very resentfully, people are buying tags and storing rubbish for up to five weeks – which is not the best practise either. People are also bringing rubbish to work and into Dublin City to their relations for disposal.

Where residents are more organised it may be possible to dispose into Council lorries but the issue of alternative waste disposal needs more discussion. FCC are not increasing the tag charge for 2004. Campaign is discussing bringing out a new sticker to be placed on bins showing defiance and we are turning to racheting up the political pressure on the parties supporting the bin tax.

Just because the tag system is introduced does not mean that nothing can be done. The bin workers are crucial. The role of especially Impact union leaders has been disgraceful and work has to be done in Impact to expose their role.

Chair (Mick O’Reilly) introducing open discussion

He pointed out that if residents were aware of the extent of opposition to the charges and heard reports of all the anti-bin tax campaigns it would be a big boost to sustaining non-payment and the campaigns should consider that press work needed to be done to get this across.

Questions from the floor.

Name/area not- given Have non-payment figures been issued to the media ?

Joe Mooney Yes, Irish Times carried information in side-bar. No information on other media comment.

Name/area not- given. What is happening with promised newsletter.

Joe Mooney Newspaper is ready but waiting for estimates meeting and result from High Court case on December 12th. [It is intended that 100,000 copies of 4-page newpaper will be available to Dublin City Campaign responding to debt collection threats, non collection threats, the issue of double taxation, the Oxigen strike and other crucial issues and will be distributed in early January]

Inchicore delegate In terms of double tax – what is acceptable to resolve this ?

Mick O’Reilly (Chair) Campaigns/trade unions need to indicate the shape of tax which is acceptable and campaigns are pushing this agenda.

Emmett Farrell (Liberties) In relation to what is acceptable, it is necessary to put the current charge before any further increases in the context of total PAYE taxation.

In Sligo refuse collection privatised and current charge is € 10 per week equivalent to € 520 per year and it is not possible for a family with a few children to hoard rubbish over weeks. There is no waiver. In Kilkenny County Council the privatised charge is € 460 in 2004. In Athlone, the privatised charge is € 8 per week equivalent to € 416 per year. In Limerick, the private collector Mr Binman provides a partial waiver but pensioners must pay € 80 every six months and this is very onerous on pensioners already struggling on fixed – low - incomes.

So for hundreds of thousands of low income workers, the bin charge means that already more than a weeks wages is being taken out of a house. In a Sligo estate of say 300 houses, € 150,000 is being taken out of that estate.

Between 1993 and 2003 the amount collected in PAYE and VAT has increased from 7,000 million Irish pounds to €15,000 million – 60% of all taxes collected - and in each year since the service charges were introduced in 1983, the total amount levied in service charges in all local authorities throughout the state has been less than the amount of due taxes written off in each year – in 2003 the C&AG’s report shows that €178 million in due taxes was written off.

The point is that there are sufficient funds available to fund the waste collection service if the government would force the tax dodgers to pay their due taxes.

Andrew Balckmore, an Oxigen striker addressed the conference on the issue of their 8 week old strike for Siptu union recognition.

In a very moving contribution, Andrew related the work regime and conduct of the private Oxigen company which led to attempts to form a union. Bullying as normal work practise, no overtime, while additional routes are added on without consultation on a take it or leave it basis, 4am finishing times, bad working conditions in the recycling separation process with little regard for health and safety.

Reponse of Oxigen owners to attempt to get union recognition - effectively a reign of terror, during which strikers had been intimidated, run over by scab drivers and hospitalised. Their union caravan had been mysteriously burned down. Foreign nationals who work on the recycling separation have been threatened with deportation if they support strike.

Strikers see Oxigen as preparing to take over DNCC bin collection in future and warn DNCC workers of what is in store. Strikers asking residents to boycott DNCC green bin during strike – these are scab bins.

Strikers going into their 9th week. No going to give up. Are prepared to fight on over Christmas and looking for support.

Collection taken up at Conference for strikers.

MO’Reilly Chair Andrew’s contribution very moving. What is happening in Oxigen indicates what privatisation means and it is past time that the leadership of ICTU made a partnership with their own members rather than their exploiters.

Willie Cumming (Donnycarney/Coolock) Non-payment is the strength of the campaign. The non-payment figures are very important and should be brought into all up coming union branch AGMs for discussion. In particular, my own union, Impact, has claimed in its latest newsletter that 80% payment has been achieved and this must be challenged and exposed.

The issue of the elections is coming up at all the meetings in the local areas. If we don’t stand in the elections we will be missing a huge opportunity.

Gearoid (South Dublin) It would be a disaster if this campaign disappeared when the bin tax issue is resolved. This movement needs to build a broad campaigning political organisation and a mass movement.

In the 1970s/1980s we had the ‘Dublin shop stewards committee’ and this frightened the ITGWU leaders when the grass roots took action. We have to look to building a mass movement in the New Year.

Ann Conway (Donnycarney) Role of ICTU, SIPTU and IMPACT leaders must be exposed. In Donnycarney campaign we have argued for mass community lobby of SIPTU to show that they have been collaborating – to demand that they flout the Industrial Relations Act. This is not just about the bin tax but about quality of life, cuts in services. These leaders have to made to choose – which side are they on.

Criticise the campaign for not focusing on the union leaders. Need to re-focus. Weakness of tactics include the blockades which left the Trades Council off the hook and frightened people who felt that if they were not prepared to go on blockades then they had no part in campaign. Should harass Jack O’Connor not bin workers.

Kevin McLoughlin (Socialist Party and involved in a number of campaigns)

Fingal tactics absolutely correct. Blockade tactics have been successful. Will make the councils think twice when they are contemplating re-introducing water charges.

Agree on the need for mass mobilisation and for proposed demo but if the demo is successful and say 10,000 turn out and if we have candidates elected in the local elections, will this necessarily result in abolition of bin tax?

Most important issue is how to deal with non-collection. If we prioritise demo and elections over the work in the communities around the issue of non collection this will be a mistake. A militant non payment stand was made in Fingal. The residents there are angry over the tax but at the same time not necessarily convinced that they can win. This attitude has intensified over the past months. If during October 14th/15th the campaigns had been able to mobilise hundreds from the communities on the blockades then it would have been correct to continue the blockades.

If we concentrate on demo and elections then we will not prepare the communities for what is coming.

Pat Dunne (Greenhills) We have a network of 40 activists in my estate who will deliver leaflets but we will not know until non collection is attempted in our area how strong our campaign is and that test is coming in January.

We have a good turnout today but could be increased. If nothing in the media, residents may think we have gone away. The most recent jailings were deplorable but the media virtually ignored. If we challenge the establishment, we will get their attention. I’m talking about a political challenge. I was in Labour Party for a long time and they still talk to me and what they are talking about is what the anti-bin tax campaign is going to do in the local elections. They are scared of us.

It is incumbent on this campaign to push things into a challenge to the establishment parties in the EU and local elections.

We should avoid sectarianism and stand a slate of candidates in each ward. Even if a press report issued from this meeting, stating that we are going to stand this would have an effect.

We are stronger than we sometimes think we are.

Question from floor

Name/area not given Why is this campaign ignoring the middle class and second question why is this campaign ignoring the left wing agenda?

Mick Murphy South Dublin Salami tactics and Tag system is the way the Councils will go and we have to be out of the traps rapidly in January.

Colm Breathnach (Finglas and Irish Socialist Newtwork)

In response to previous question re middle class, we don’t accept the media’s artificial division of the communities into middle class and working class. More correctly, every worker who is a PAYE taxpayer is affected by this double tax.

We need to discuss immediately how we can best respond to the councils tactic of tagging – what are the best tactics to deal with this.

I’m in favour of standing in the elections but concerned that we might take the emphasis off people power. The blockades were not elitist in my experience. The people on the Finglas blockade when the injunction was served were mainly women and not from any political party. Of the nine jailed only three were members of political parties. I was a councillor for the Democratic Left and would be worried if we say leave it to any political party - people power is the key and the elections are an added extra.

Dermot Naessans Liberties and Treasurer of Dublin City Campaign.

Key in 2004 is how to deal with non collection. This is make or break for the campaign. Unless we have answers, we are not going to win.

People need to be glued in to the fact that non-collection will involve a physical battle on the streets with nothing ruled in or out [in the sense of blockades]

We must make life difficult for the establishment politicians. We should work for a ballot of all bin workers on the issue of non-collection – their jobs are on the line

Dessie Ellis (SF and Finglas)

The campaign needs a clear strategy with a definite goal. I am not of the opinion that the elections are not crucial. FF are concerned and if they lose 50 seats the knifes are out for the FF leadership.

Need to point to increasing stealth taxes, to the numbers of taxpayers being brought into the 42% band. We have to send a big message in the local elections.

Alice Sheridan (Ballyfermot)

Privatisation is a huge issue. How are we going to deal with proposals from the floor? I propose we produce a poster for mass distribution saying ‘Do not co-operate with scab Oxigen’.

Brendan Donohue Tallaght Siptu and Impact activists should get together

Unidentified woman

Ballyfermot Campaign I don’t agree with previous speaker. There is a good crowd of activists here

Unidentified speaker. Arte we going to take decisions here ?

Mick O’Reilly Chair I have been instructed by campaigns that we will not be voting.

There is a fair bit of repetition but I can identify four issues on which there is consensus.

  1. Work to maintain non-payment is the key.
  2. Demo at EU privatisation conference in Dublin on February 20th
  3. Upgrade trade union work around Dublin Council of Trade Unions Forum.
  4. Participate in local elections in June 2004
The campaigns should continue to discuss/progress these issues.

Unidentified speaker from floor:

Before Dessie Ellis leaves I want an answer – Are SF going to get fully behind this campaign or not ?

Mick O’Reilly Chair That is out of order. Don’t answer that.

Speakers representing the four campaigns responded to the discussion.

Ruth Coppinger Fingal

Need to correct something. Never was any harassment of bin workers in Fingal or anywhere else. Councils made these false allegations, we should not repeat them.

The trade union leaders were asked for support – unfortunately they have left us out on our own.

In relation to the tactic of blockades, has anyone got a better alternative ?

If we had not blockaded in Fingal on Day One, thousands of bins would have been left behind and the campaign would effectively be over.

Yes, we should challenge in elections but ultimately non-collection is the key.

Brid Smith Ballyfermot/Pro Dublin City campaign.

High Court 12th Friday at 10 am – Need mobilisation.

Bring back packaging Day –Thursday 11th at agreed shopping centres.

Monday 15th Dublin City Council Estimates Meeting proposed 27% increase to €270. Need mobilisation.

6.15 at Dublin Castle Monday 15th

Forum here has identified that bin tax is part of neo-liberal offensive. Last Thursday 700 at meeting in Transport Club in Crumlin. Have to use such meetings to get hundreds on blockades.

Richard Boyd Barrett (DLR Campaign)

Brilliant Meeting demonstrates the resilience to defend public services. Non- collection is most immediate issue. Varies from area to area but strong local organisation is the key.

In our area another round of mass meetings will be organised in January. Blockades for or against. Not either or – a tactical question.

Critical to sustain Oxigen strike. Issue of adequate recycling facilites and profits to be made which should be going into public funds to provide better service.

Demo/elections all part of strategy. People understand bin charges thin end of wedge. Demo would be a show of strength. Need to build a movement which will go beyond the campaign and elections.

Mick Murphy South Dublin Campaign

Rough few months. Next period will be critical in South Dublin and we will need help from other areas. Expect a big response in Tallaght and Clondalkin.

Mick O Reilly Chair Conference has shown that campaign has local authority dimension, government dimension, trade union dimension and civic society dimension.

Campaign should input to Dublin Trades Council Forum and ATGWU will assist in putting motions to move the issue forward if campaign wants to discuss with ATGWU on the issue.

Regarding the role of other union leaders, important to point out that it is not illegal under Industrial Relations Act for bin workers to lift bins.

Joe Higgins Socialist Party TD and Fingal Campaign

was asked to sum up conference.

Useful discussion and officers of campaigns should meet before Christmas to progress issues raised.

Need to develop a critique involving relentless exposure of the failure of government over six years to reduce waste to landfill.

The bin charge is a bin tax – a revenue raising measure not an environmental levy.

The government could rapidly reduce waste to landfill through targeted investment.

On September 10th the FCC and other councils believe that they would bury the campaign in two weeks. They did not – because we fought.

The fact that residents stood physically in front of bin trucks was very significant.

Andrew Blackmores report on the situation in Oxigen indicates what we are up against and we must point out that the County Managers are responsible.

Combat Poverty Report Waste Collection Charges and Low Income Households proves what we have been saying that this tax is a huge added burden on families with low wages.

Note well that McGreevey gave € 30 million – once off – to Councils to make up for benchmarking payments and to get them the government parties through the local elections but come next December this money will not be available and the charges will again be raised to make up the shortfall.

Critical to be prepared. Gardai and Courts will again be used against the campaign but success depends on how well grounded the campaigns are in the local communities.