Article from the Feb. 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
Why we say - "Don't Pay!"
by Gary Mulcahy
We Won't Pay Campaign
ON 12 February, hundreds are expected to take to the streets across Northern Ireland as part of a day of action called by the Coalition Against Water Charges (CAWC).
Demonstrations and protests are useful tools to mobilise and express the anger of people against water charges, but unfortunately on their own, divorced from mass non-payment, they will not defeat water charges.
Many groups involved in the CAWC however believe that this strategy of political pressure and lobbying can stop water charges. The We Won't Pay Campaign disagrees with this strategy. Government ministers have consistently refused to listen to the opposition of the majority of people, including trade unions, political parties and voluntary organisations. In fact, the charging mechanisms and preparations to privatise the service are already at an advanced stage.
Most groups in CAWC are opposed to mass non-payment as the key to defeating water charges. In an interview given to the BBC, Tom Gillen of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, speaking on behalf of CAWC, stated "I don't mind paying for water if I am not paying for the infrastructure, let the government pay for the infrastructure" (BBC News, 26 Jan). This statement reveals a meek acceptance of water charges, but with some minor adjustments to the present proposals from the government. This is the dominant view of the leadership of CAWC.
Other influential groups such as the Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network (NIAPN) refuse to make the call for mass non-payment, rather stating that they will defend people who don't pay the charges. But without the majority of people organised in a non-payment campaign before charges are introduced, it will be too late to defeat the water charges.
Others groups like Communities Against the Water Tax have attempted to build a campaign through existing structures like District Councils and community organisations. So far, District Council public meetings have failed to attract crowds. Instinctively, people correctly do not expect the right-wing parties on these Councils to fight against the charges.
Aside from some noble exceptions, many community organisations actually rely on government-funding and many are in effect controlled by political and paramilitary groups. Instead of acting as a vehicle to organise the communities, many community organisations will act as a break on organising non-payment. If groups fear their funding will be withdrawn from being associated with building mass non-payment, many will turn against non-payment.
The Socialist Party believes building the We Won't Pay Campaign as an independent, membership-based and explicitly non-payment campaign is the most important task for those wishing to defeat water charges.
Community group gets water bill
WALKWAY Community Centre in the Newtownards Road area of East Belfast is already getting water bills. Local community worker Rachael Davidson, who is also a member of the We Wont Pay Campaign, told The Socialist
"In September 2003 the Water Service came and installed a meter in our centre. Then bills started to arrive - £145 for the year. We had no idea why this was happening as we have never had water bills before. We asked around other community and charitable organisations in the district and found that we were the only one being charged.
"It was also notable that it was private contractors who came in to install the meter, a sign of who will benefit if household charges come in. We have raised the issue in our local "We Wont Pay" group and are considering local protests against this charge."
East Belfast Socialist Party representative, Tommy Black, has written to the Water Service demanding that the charge on Walkway be withdrawn.
Join the We Won't Pay Campaign
SINCE JANUARY, successful public meetings have been held in Enniskillen, Derry, Lisnaskea, Ormeau Rd, Newtownards Rd, Omagh and Cookstown. If you want to set up a We Won't Pay group in your area or to join the We Won't Pay Campaign phone 07743282321 or visit the website at www.wewontpay.tk
Earlier reports of the water charges campaign