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Water revolt in Ireland: Socialist candidate wins by-election as 100,000 march

By Henry Silke, Dublin

October 13, 2014 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal – Saturday, October 11, saw a major revolt in Ireland over the implementation of the controversial water charge. An estimated 100,000 people marched in unseasonal sunshine, while former member of the European parliament (MEP) Paul Murphy was elected in the Dublin South West by-election. Murphy stood for the Socialist Party’s (CWI) electoral front, the Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA).

A second by-election in a rural midlands district saw the election of Michael Fitzmaurice, an independent linked to Luke “Ming” Flanagan, a populist independent MEP. (Ming has orientated to the left since being elected MEP and has joined the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group in the European parliament).

Murphy’s victory is the Socialist Party’s second recent by-election victory, with Ruth Coppingerin Dublin West, where the party now hold two seats. This by-election however was more significant as Murphy, unlike Coppinger, had little presence in the area before the election.

Water

The process of the commodification and, as most suspect, the eventual privatisation of the water supply (currently paid from general taxation) has been under way for some time, however the installation of water meters and the arrival of Irish Water subscription packs in the post have brought the issue to the fore.

The installation of meters has been met with numerous local and militant protests, often succeeding in temporarily preventing installation; the early success of this organic and localised protest movement has been met with a heavy police presence at installation sites and dozens of arrests.

It has not been lost on the public that the installation company, Siteserv, http://www.siteserv.ie/ is owned by Dennis O’Brien, a tax exile who controls most of the country’s print and radio media and was also named in a corruption tribunal for bribing the then minister of communications.

While thousands were expected on the October 11 march, the massive 100,000 people who took part was beyond even the most optimistic expectations. To put this into context the population of Dublin is just over 1 million people and of the Republic of Ireland just over 4 million. The protest, unusually for one this size, was organised without the support of the major trade unions. The march was good natured but militant bypassing the stewards to march on the national parliament, which was not part of the official route.

Dublin South West by-election

The by-election in Dublin South West was of interest both for the campaign as well as the outcome. Tthe entire election campaign was framed on leftist lines, the question was not whether the water charge was acceptable or not, opposition was assumed. The debate was centred on the strategy to oppose the charge and which party could give better leadership. The clear favourite Sinn Fein’s Cathal King had an unclear position not helped by the leaders of his party, who in their current preoccupation of appearing respectable insisted they would pay the charge (while opposing it).

The AAA’s Paul Murphy had a clearer stance of no payment and attacked Sinn Fein for being soft on the issue. Sinn Fein for its part claimed it would abolish the tax on entry to government, as it claimed it had in Northern Ireland, though prominent SF spokespeople had been unclear even on this.

As could be seen from the very militant mood of the march and the eventual outcome of the by-election. people seem to have an appetite for direct action and non-payment rather than waiting for a possible change in government. King finally resorted to parochial and personalised attacks on Murphy for being too middle class and not being from the area. While the low turnout probably affected the Sinn Fein vote, Murphy clearly caught the mood of the day and this should act as a warning to the Sinn Fein leadership to watch its left flank.

On a broader level, the last two by-elections have been dog fights between the Socialist Party and Sinn Fein, with the mainstream parties acting as also-rans. While by-elections are very different to general elections and certain local aspects were present, the fact that open Trotskyist candidates have won two by-elections in a row says something.

Sinn Fein scored 24% in the last national poll and is neck and neck with the ruling Fine Gael party. The Labour Party barely registered in the elections and its new leader Joan Burton drew much derision by complaining that protesters could afford smart phones.

Socialist Party

The Socialist Party has continued its recent “go it alone” strategy by launching its own water tax campaign front, “We Won’t Pay”. This is somewhat understandable considering the acrimonious ending of the campaign against the property tax, the splitting apart of the United Left Alliance and more recently the Socialist Workers Party’s scuppering of Murphy’s chances in the European election.

Within the broader left there seems to be little mood at present for unity projects nor the belief that the SP or SWP can work well within them together. Moreover the SP leadership can certainly point to the two by-election victories as evidence of a strategy that is working well for the party. Whether the AAA becomes a pole of attraction for those getting involved in the water struggle still remains to be seen.

The SWPs electoral front, the People before Profit Alliance, will also be hoping to be a force of opposition while the SP has also had some internal difficulties over the last number of years with numerous resignations over issues of internal democracy. Front organisations by their very nature tend to be party leadership controlled. The SWP’s PBPA, for example, took eight years to hold its first voting conference. Whether this kind of organisation can attract people in their masses in this period of “anti-party” sentiment and generalised demands for political agency and democracy is an open question.

The government will now be faced with serious opposition to the charge and, with Murphy’s victory, the strategy of non-payment has been put to the fore. This battle has the potential to become the main focus of struggle for a working class who have suffered seven years of austerity and defeats.

The arrogance of the establishment has been so great recently that their first policy proposal since the so-called “recovery” is a tax cut for higher earners only. However the government’s attempts to herald a “recovery”’ while continuing polices of austerity could quite easily backfire.

The fact that the establishment parties, including the main opposition Fianna Fail party, have all fared particularly badly in the by-elections, alongside the October 11 march, should make them sit up and take note. However elite interests are unlikely to quietly accept a government retreat.

Nonetheless, October 11 was an important day for the development of class politics, and in the words of Clare Daly TD, it was the day “the people roared”.

Comments

Forth many banners did go

Well done again Henry. Thanks.

Though the biggest trade union, SIPTU, and other unions did not march, there was actually strong trade union participation. The organisers, 'Right2Water', included Mandate, Unite and the CPSU. Also marching with flags or banners were members of the Communications Workers Union, OPATSI, the Independent Workers Union, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions and the Waterford Council of Trade Unions.

Thanks for the clarification

Thanks for the clarification Des.The main point I am attempting to make is that this march was of a different character to the earlier large trade union backed marches we saw early in the crisis. However you are correct that there was indeed union backing and mobilisation.

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