No support for water charges

Socialist Voice June 2003

Gary Mulcahy explains the real agenda of New Labour, and of local parties, in introducing these charges.

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A number of stormy "consultation meetings" have taken place across the North on the government's plans to introduce separate water charges. Socialist Party members and trade unionists were among those who intervened in the 200 strong meeting in Belfast. The meeting ended with a unanimous vote to reject the charges.

According to New Labour Minister, Angela Smith, we will be paying water charges by 2006. The 'consultation' document states the average water charge will be "in the region of 350 - 400 per year. This figure would rise steadily as investment levels increase, as they must."

Metered water charges in England and Wales have led to poor families rationing water. These charges will hit everyone; even pensioners, the unemployed and low-paid are expected to pay. 600 water service job losses (one-third of the workforce) have already been announced. So much for the 'consultation'! The introduction of water charges is the first step towards the privatisation of our water service. Senior civil servants from the NI Dept. of Finance & Personnel have already admitted this on several occasions. The five different options in the document on how we would like our water to be managed are all varying forms of privatisation.

Protest against water charges, May 2003

"Water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century," wrote the business magazine Fortune in a special edition in May 2000. "Supplying water to people is a US$400 billion a year industry. That's 40% of the oil sector and one-third larger than global pharmaceuticals. And that's just the beginning."

In 1998, the World Bank predicted that the global trade in water would soon be a US$800 billion industry and by 2000 this projection had been raised to one trillion dollars.

A handful of giant companies dominate the global water industry. Two French companies, Vivendi and Suez, are the world's biggest by far. Together they control over 70% of the world's private water market. (Coinciden-tally, French President Chirac had water privatisation discussed during the G8 Summit in Evian).

Britain and France are the only 'developed' countries to have a privatised water service. Capitalist institutions like the IMF and World Bank have forced poor countries to privatise their water service, among other public assets, in order to receive loans. This has led to an increase in diseases and the infant mortality rate because only those lucky enough can afford clean piped water. Privatisation of water is a barbaric, inhumane policy.

It will come as no surprise to many to see New Labour ministers carry out these attacks. But what may surprise some is that these attacks originate from the Assembly. All the main parties agreed in principle with water charges. SDLP's Sean Farren and the DUP's Peter Robinson co-operated in beginning the 'consultation' process just before the Assembly came crashing down. No wonder there was not one MLA present at the consultation meetings.

The Socialist Party has launched a campaign against the water charges and has so far received massive support. To defeat the water charges, we need to build a mass campaign of non-payment, which is a democratic membership-based campaign active in the communities. We also need to force the unions to take action, up to and including strike action to defend jobs and our water service.

For articles from on the water charges campaign in NI go to the sitemap.
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