Eamonn Holmes asked Jeremy Corbyn to “talk football”, discuss his tie choices, described him as a hippy and aksed him to admit that he “hates the Tories” among other inane questions in a cringy interview for Sky News.
Finding articles from the Irish Independent to be disagreeable is an everyday occurrence. But here’s a particularly questionable article from the newspaper by Shane Ross, claiming it isn’t the Irish working class (inspired by people such as Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger etc.) who are responsible for the defeat of the water charges, but the middle-class, who have staged a rebellion.
‘Irish Water’s days are numbered, slain not by Paul Murphy and his band, but by a middle-class rebellion.’ – Shane Ross
It’s easy to see how people can mistake the middle-class as the “real progressive force” in society, especially if you’re from the kind of bourgeois background as Ross is. Ultimately, isn’t it the middle-class generally who form laws, debate legislation, treat illnesses, manage businesses, etc.? So therefore one might easily confuse the middle-class as the force for change in society. We do after all, live in a bourgeois society.
I believe if we are to achieve positive and meaningful change in society, we should confront such views as the one expressed by Ross.
I should be clear, the campaign against the water charges would be nowhere without the courage and integrity of ordinary working-class people, who have ignited, developed and led the movement through protests and civil disobedience. Last Saturday’s protest in Dublin, when 2,000 or so working-class people turned out to support those Jobstown residents is just one example of that uniquely working-class solidarity, leadership and class consciousness. The 2,000 or so attendees were ordinary people fighting to protect the limited democratic rights that they have left, namely the right to effective and peaceful protesting. The crowd was neither largely comprised by, nor led by, middle-class people.
If it was a ‘middle-class rebellion’, Ross surely doesn’t think much of the kinds of values or principles on which the middle-class have based their rebellion. According to him, it was a rebellion driven by cynicism and greed on the part of the more privileged class:
You did not pay? You are carefree, cavalier and cunning. You know there is safety in numbers. The Irish Government is hardly poised to prosecute half its electorate just before an election. The battle is over. Civil disobedience has triumphed.
Some of those who have already paid up are looking ruefully at their respectable, middle-class neighbours. The neighbours – with two cars in the driveway and kids at private schools – are not paying their water charges. They see no point. They justify their refusal by citing the woes of Irish Water. They loathe the bonus culture, the waste, the daily litany of disasters dripping out of the Talbot Street headquarters. They deeply dislike Paul Murphy TD, his ilk and his antics, but they see a refusal to pay water charges as a gesture of defiance, a riposte to the constant crucifixions of the coping classes. They know they will never see the inside of a courtroom.
(This is ironic too, because it is the middle-class who benefits most of all from that “bonus culture” which exists, although it is indeed reviled by most working-class people)
Certainly, some of those more cynical reasons laid out above by Ross have been a reason in encouraging elements of the working class too. But if you ask most ordinary people about their main considerations for why they didn’t pay the water charge, their motives were not greed or cynicism; their motives were based on the moral belief that to ask the 99% to continually bail out an economic system that they work for, and reap little or no reward from, is wrong. Many others cannot afford to pay a water charge, and so they have no choice – but they have supported a movement which supports them. Many feel betrayed and ridiculed by a political party which they elected, which is now implementing austerity initiatives they were purportedly against before they were elected. There are other principled reasons such as, “we pay for water through taxation anyway”, that “Irish Water is not really about water conservation”, that “Irish Water will be privatised and driven by profit, just as the foundation of bin charges led to privatisation”. The working class are angry too – perhaps more acutely – at the sheer expense, waste and incompetency shown by the ‘top brass’ managing Irish Water; angry at their contemptible display of entitlement when taking large bonuses more-or-less from the pockets of an increasingly beat-down population. These are working-class grievances – and let’s not mention the anger over the role of Denis O’ Brien and his company Siteserv in all of this.
Middle-class representatives like Ross have had to resort to digging for reasons why the middle-class should be concerned about the water charges issue, beyond the powerful class-conscious reasons that the working-class have. The middle-class cannot argue that they cannot afford to pay, and they cannot say they are being hit the hardest by austerity. Even arguing against a “bonus culture” is a little shallow given that it is middle-class individuals who benefit the most from this culture. Thus cynicism, greed, frustration with the ‘sisterhood of quangos’, (an admittedly a costly bureaucratic ordeal for the middle-class with potential political ramifications within those circles) and an alleged sympathy for the crucified working-class become causes for concern for the middle-class in Ross’ view.
Ross is correct in the sense that some of the middle-class has played a part in defying the implementation of water charges – but who has shown them the way? Who has made it a national issue with the potential for real change? The protest movement began with brave acts of defiance in working class estates and spread throughout other working class areas in the country. Jobstown is now perhaps the most well-known of these. We should not forget the massive crowds that turned out for protests in Dublin on multiple occasions – more than 100,000 on at least one occassion. Other protests saw tens of thousands attend in working class areas such as Blanchardstown and Clondalkin. The working class people of Limerick and Cork, who have suffered harshly from austerity, have also been an inspiration. And yes, actually, much of it was led by Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger among other working-class leaders – indeed, the first recorded protest against water charges was in Coppinger’s constituency, Dublin West, in November 2013. All the middle-class could do was follow this huge working-class movement.
SIPTU general president, Jack O’Connor walked out of Vincent Browne’s Tonight programme after being asked critical questions about Labour’s role in Government (see video below). O’Connor then asked Browne why TV3 won’t ‘respect the employee’s right to collective bargaining’ and why Vincent Browne is ‘working for them’ if he disagreed with it.
Fellow guest Ruth Coppinger TD said of the incident:
‘I thought for about one second whether I should join Jack O’Connor tonight and march off the Vincent Browne Show.Then I thought of the timing: Jack O’Connor was being asked a legitimate question as to why Labour never carried out pro-worker legislation it promised. Then I thought of Jack O’Connor’s role in foisting reduced pay on thousands of workers by supporting Haddington Road, Croke Park etc. Then I thought of how Jack never took a principled stand to support Greyhound and countless other strikers; the wages he is on; and the fact that he knew quite well before the show the situation with workers at TV3. So, then I decided to stay and salute the magnificent stand by thousands of low paid workers today in Dunnes and the govt’s [sic] real agenda.
The title of this article could more appropriately be attributed to corporations, who, through various loopholes, pay virtually no tax which would benefit Irish society, but this has been well documented and discussed here before.
What the title refers to however, is the suggestion among some in the media (today it was Pat Kenny), that those who do pay water charges will be subsidising those who don’t. In actual fact he said those that “will not pay” as opposed to those who “cannot pay”, so as not to appear too uncaring – but fundamentally, what’s the difference? In the light of corporations paying virtually no tax this appears an obscene way to approach the question of who’s “not paying” for what. Of course, it’s also an attempt to smear the water charges boycotters as selfish, wreckless individuals with no social responsibility or awareness, who obviously do not consider the harm they’re doing to the kind people who intend to pay water charges (it should be noted, that many people who intend to pay, are not doing so because they agree with water charges, but out of duress). Again this would seem an obscene way of portraying boycotters and protesters, as it is undoubtedly their strong social conscience which drives them in such massive numbers to public protests and meetings across the country about the future of Irish society.
But what validity does Kenny’s argument have? Surely it strengthens the argument on the Right2Water and #WeWontPay sides that people should just refuse to pay? If you refuse to register or pay for water charges, Irish Water will fail, and nobody will be “subsidising” anyone. The argument reminds me of how, during the First World War, those calling for recruits stigmatized conscientious objectors on the death of their fellow countrymen – another futile event on behalf of the rich in which the poor suffered horrifically.
Even if the percentage of the population who are not paying remains roughly the same, the numbers are still large enough to render Irish Water a failed entity. Then nobody will be paying for water charges as they will undoubtedly be abolished.
But, even if those who have registered start paying their bills, the bills are set by the amount of water that you use, not by how many people still have not paid. Simply arguing that bills are subsidising for those who are not paying water charges is nonsense. If anything, it suggests that Irish Water only intend to increase their prices in the future anyway and may be looking for an excuse to do so, as there are credible concerns that the entity will be privatised as the refuse collections were. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Irish taxpayers already pay for water. This too has been well documented, including the fact that we also pay for water through our motor tax!
Perhaps the most exacerbating argument coming from the Government and others who support the implementation of water charges by Irish Water, is that the charges are to increase conservation of water for environmental purposes. This environmentally-based narrative has been one of the main argument for water charges since the debacle started. A quick look at the Irish Water website confirms how blatantly they use this angle for propaganda purposes.
Water charges will not do anything meaningful, if anything at all, for the conservation of water or the environment. Poorer people will continue to use it for the same everyday things they have always used it for, or perhaps sacrifice some sanitary or other necessities. Well-off people will continue to be liberal in their use of garden hoses on their lawns, as the expense on their income will be relatively low. Those of the elite 1% who do cut down on domestic waste of water can only make a negligible positive impact to the environment.
What makes the argument in favour of water charges that is based on water conservation so frustrating, is that apart from being false, it is insulting to the main groups and people who have tirelessly campaigned against pollution and the capitalist policies which worsen it. It has been the very groups which oppose water charges that have championed the call for real and purposeful action on climate change; typically, left-wing groups such as the Socialist Party, Right2Water, #WeWontPay, Anti Austerity Alliance and the SWP.
Where there exists an economic and social system based on profiteering by the few at the expense of the many, and inequality between rich and poor, there cannot be real environmental responsibility, sustainability or action on climate change. Real change would hurt profits, and “economic growth” based on those profits. That is why we need revolutionary action to change the system for the better. It has become more urgent than ever that we do so.
Take this point from Naomi Klein’s new book This Changes Everything, about climate change, where she quotes Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research:
‘Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the “evolutionary change”… Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2oC budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony’.
The introduction of water charges is simply a method for, effectively, maintaining an economy whereby the ultra-wealthy get wealthier and ordinary people continue to suffer as a result, because the Government of the day needs to find money in place of the tax that massive corporations should otherwise be paying in corporation tax. They are turning, yet again, to ordinary working people as an “easy target” to do this.