The movement that has emerged in Ireland against the water tax is truly inspiring and has a depth and tenacity that the anti home tax movement lacked. There are numerous groups, parties, alliances, unions and organisations of all sorts involved in the broad movement some are purely local, some have wider networks and all use various tactics. The most interesting and positive strand of the movement however is the self organising community groups. Though they vary in size they are at the cutting edge of the campaign and are the primary reason for our success so far. Whilst Right to Water has facilitated the largest demonstrations and others have mobilized smaller but significant demonstrations it is the community based groups who have been key to the mobilization of the bulk of people for any protest, the resistance of metering and the potential success of the non payment campaign.
Theses groups are characterized by many positives from the view of anyone who wishes to see a transformation of Irish society. We have seen a keen use of direct action where people have physically stopped the installation of water meters. There is no reliance on others to do the job for them, though help is often welcome, people have organized on their own streets and estates to oppose the water metering operation. The level of success varies depending on the neighbourhood but even partial success eg stopping some meters or simply delaying the process has galvanized many communities for the ongoing fight. This whole tactic of opposing water meters was scoffed at by many on the left as a non starter. How wrong they were, the stopping of Irish Water in Ashbrook in Togher effectively launched this campaign, and communities across the country quickly copied the tactic generating a huge momentum that fed into the huge demonstrations that followed.
The self activity of local groups is a clear break with the idea that there is a need for some group of experts, leaders or politicians to come and do things for people. Instead people are doing it for themselves often working on ideas and information from networks of friends and relations who have already acted in their own community. This is extremely important as no real transformation of society can occur if people themselves are not directly involved as the key actors.
The local groups tend towards direct democracy, by that I mean the idea that ideas are discussed amongst those involved at the coalface and not by a distant party leadership or campaign headquarters. The groups are based in local areas where people feel comfortable speaking their minds, and decision making thus is more a collective experience. There is an expectation that everyone should be involved in the decision making process, this helps hold groups together even where occasionally mistakes are made as all feel they are being heard. It also gives them a robustness when attacked by the media and politicians.
Solidarity between local groups is high on the agenda and is taken as a natural and logical extension of their activities. Clearly groups network with others and offer solidarity in any way they can to areas under pressure or just getting off the ground. It is also demonstrated in groups helping to organize areas not yet up and running. There are ample examples of groups running carloads of extra help to aid their neighbouring commmunities and fine examples of whole towns being organized systematically to resist collectively, Cobh in County Cork being a prime example.
Working class resistance has been a big feature of the campaign thus far with the most militant areas being working class communities. Our communities have been hardest hit by the governments cutbacks, job losses, wage cuts and increased taxes. Anger has been simmering away for years. The strength of the resistance in such communities has been a huge shock both to the government and the media. The have responded by attempting to demonise protestors and split the communities, with zero success. The reason is straight forward enough the political class and the mainstream media are seen as enemies here not friends.
Another feature of these groups is that they are by and large made up of people who have a healthy cynicism when it comes to politicians and political parties. This independence of political thought is a bitter result of too many betrayals over too many years. It is not anti politics per se but a healthy skepticism and a preference straight talking and practical organizing without the oversight of a self declared vanguard or panel of experts.
The use of social media has helped establish networks of genuine community based groups, some have started to formally network aswell arranging production of leaflets, training in water meter removal, protests, public meetings and fundraising. These networks are stronger than in previous campaigns and based on higher levels of respect and mutual solidarity. There are all sorts of ideas floating around in our movement but good hard work alongside others involved allows you the space and respect to challenge bad ideas, and have your own ideas challenged too.
Continuing to resist metering, building local groups, agitating for mass non payment and working together we can defeat the water tax.