water charges "we won't pay"
Non-payment campaign set up
THE RESULT of the "consultation" on water charges was a resounding NO! All the meetings opposed the idea of charges. The proposed privatisation of the water service was also rejected.
By Terry McDonagh Socialist Voice, July 2003
Visit the site of the We Won't Pay Campaign
The response of the government has been to ignore the unanimous opposition and carry on regardless. The so-called "Water Reform Bill" will still be introduced, to become law in June 2005.
In other words, the whole "consultation" exercise was a farce. The decision to introduce £400 - £600 charges, and then to privatise water, has already been taken. Fortunately a decision to mount a campaign in opposition to these charges has also been taken. A number of meetings have been called involving trade unionists and community activists as well as Socialist Party members.
Further protests, including a proposal for a major demonstration in the autumn, are being discussed. It is important that these go ahead and that a democratic structure to co-ordinate the activities of all the groups and campaigns opposing this new tax is now set up.
But the key to defeating this new tax is to organise people to refuse to pay. Mass non payment saw off the poll tax in Britain. Mass non payment also got rid of water charges in the South.
Although the charge is not due to come in until April 2006, the time to prepare a non- payment campaign is now. The government and the local politicians have to be sent a clear message - implement this measure and you will be met with a massive campaign of civil disobedience.
The Socialist Party has decided to launch a "Water charges - we won't pay" campaign. Over the summer, the first meetings are being organised in a number of areas to invite people to join local non payment groups.
A non payment pledge is also being launched, to be taken to the streets and around the doors with the aim of getting 10,000 households to commit to refuse to pay. This would give a clear message to the politicians that they will not get away with this double taxation.
The one thing that the "consultation" meetings did show is that there is no justification for this charge.
The arguments put forward in favour were wafer thin. It is not about improving the water service. It is about making us pay through the nose so that the service can be sold off and run for a profit. "Can't pay - won't pay" must be our answer.
No support for water charges
ON 20 JUNE the deadline for submissions to the consultation document "The Reform of Water and Sewerage Services in Northern Ireland" ended. This document was published after the parties in the NI Assembly Executive accepted that the water service would have to be self-financing. It stated that water charges would be introduced by 1 April 2006. It also presented different options on how the water and sewerage service would be privatised.
The "consultation" process included a series of poorly advertised public meetings in six towns across the North. Due to campaigning on the streets, the Socialist Party helped to advertise these meetings so local people could protest against the decision to impose water charges and the proposals to privatise the service. At every meeting, motions were passed from the floor unanimously to reject the document. The mass opposition to water charges has also been reflected at local council level. Every local council in Northern Ireland has rejected the proposals. Fearful of losing votes, our local politicians have now opportunistically come out against these charges.
The Socialist Party's proposals:
The Socialist Party made a submission opposing these charges. Here are some of the main points:
* The "consultation" is a sham since the key decisions - to introduce some form of charge and to privatise the service have already been made.
* The document is deeply flawed. It states in paragraph 1.23 "There is a widespread perception that households in Northern Ireland currently pay for water and sewerage services through their rates bill. However, this is no longer the case." In fact, households do pay for water and sewerage through the regional rate. The imposition of separate extra water charges is double taxation.
* The document argues that we don't pay our "fair" share of local taxes. It compares rates here with the council tax and water charge in England and proposes the water charge as the first step in making us pay more. However, there is no mention of the 20% wage differential between workers in Northern Ireland and Britain. In England, Scotland & Wales. Neither does it take into account the higher cost of living in Northern Ireland. Fuel costs are 11% higher and food costs are 20% higher than Britain.
* The metering option will lead to families rationing water, therefore causing a serious health risk to working class communities.
* It proposes job cuts and worse conditions for water service staff, to save money. The 600 redundancies just announced are only the start. By sacking one-third of the workforce, the service will become less efficient.
* We call for a publicly owned and adequately funded water and sewerage service. This should be run democratically by an elected Board, with a two thirds majority made up of representatives of workers in the service, of the wider trade union movement and of community organisations. The other third should be made up of politicians from the Assembly and Council. Because the document omits this option, we call for its withdrawal.
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