Socialist Worker

Socialist speaks from jail on the growing revolt

Issue No. 1874

Brid Smith, a member of the Socialist Workers Party of Ireland, spoke to Socialist Worker from Mountjoy women's prison in Dublin The movement against the bin tax is pitting working class communities against a corrupt political establishment and its big business cronies. It is the biggest upsurge in Ireland since the campaign against increased taxes on workers' wages over two decades ago.

Since then we have had the 'Celtic Tiger' boom, which is supposed to have transformed the Irish economy. The bin tax symbolises how that economic growth has depended on squeezing working people. Workers are saying we have had enough.

The tax means charging people a flat rate to have their rubbish removed. Just like with the poll tax in Britain a decade ago, the millionaire pays the same as the worker.

Non-payment of the tax has rocketed in many working class areas. The government and councils have told bin workers to refuse to collect rubbish from homes that have not paid. I was sent to prison with two other women last week for 14 days for defying a high court injunction.

It banned us from blockading rubbish trucks in the Mount Tallant area of Dublin, where refuse collection had been withdrawn from non-payers. Councils are now using the litter laws to fine people hundreds of euros if rubbish piles up outside their homes.

At the same time the government has changed a 100 year old law that made it a legal obligation for councils to collect rubbish to preserve public health. By the middle of last week 15 people, including a socialist member of parliament and a socialist councillor, were in prison for campaigning against the tax. The court is set to issue more injunctions and the government has turned to using the public order act against protesters.

Most of those in prison are women. All are from working class areas. One woman was jailed for a week even though she is breast-feeding her baby. Another is a grandmother of five. She is on a disability pension of 124 euros and suffers from asthma. She got two weeks.

We are all proud of what we have done in refusing to apologise to the high court and give an undertaking not to take part in further protests. After the jailings last week there were mass blockades of bin depots across Dublin.

The police wanted to get the bin workers to try to drive their trucks through the lines, so they could then invoke the public order act. The bin workers refused.

Many bin workers are not paying the charges. They are overwhelmingly sympathetic to the protests. They also see the government's utter hypocrisy in pretending that the tax is a measure to protect the environment. The introduction of the tax has led to one in three people in the south east of Ireland burning their domestic waste. That produces poisonous dioxin chemicals. Utter hypocrisy

The money collected from the charges is not going into recycling. Some 93 percent of paper waste still goes into landfill rather than recycling. The government recently allowed the only glass recycling plant in southern Ireland to close.

The government is hiding behind the environmental slogan 'The polluter should pay.' Unfortunately, the Green Party has said that means we should support the bin charges.

But individual families do not choose how much waste they produce. Supermarkets and the food industry spend vast amounts on branding and packaging. We pay for it in increased prices and then are told we are responsible for the waste produced.

Household rubbish makes up only 15 percent of all waste going to landfill sites. The bulk is from industry. We all want to see recycling and an end to environmental degradation. But that requires investment and controls on big business.

The bin charges, by contrast, are part of a neo-liberal offensive against ordinary people. Big business has received huge tax cuts over the last ten years. That has left a massive tax shortfall. The government's response, as in Britain, is to raise taxes on services and on purchases.

They hit working people far harder than the rich. They are a result of a European Union directive, which in turn is a product of the global neo-liberal drive of the multinationals and institutions like the World Trade Organisation.

The charges are a sweetener for big business to move into privatised waste collection. The Oxigen company already makes a profit out of supposedly recycling waste in Ireland. Most of the material it deals with ends up in landfill sites.

There has been a string of financial scandals involving top businessmen, politicians and establishment figures over the last few years. These scandals are fuelling the bin tax protests. In the week we were jailed a tribunal heard that a leading builder had paid Liam Lawlor, who was a member of parliament, £40,000 to get the postcode of a housing estate changed so property values would go up. The judge overseeing the tribunal is a tax defaulter.

We are stepping up the campaign. The bigger the movement, the more people will feel confident to stand up and say they won't pay. Everyone knows one thing would win this campaign tomorrow. The two main unions representing bin workers, Siptu and Impact, both oppose the charges.

But their leaders have instructed bin workers to obey council directives not to collect the rubbish of non-payers. We are trying to pressure the union leaders and appeal to rank and file bin workers to ignore management and collect all the rubbish.

Workers in Britain can help. There is a defence fund to cover the costs of those imprisoned. Council workers here need to hear from their counterparts in Britain what a disaster privatisation of rubbish collection and other services is.

Send donations for the defence fund to the Treasurer of the Campaign against the bin charges, 5 Mallin Avenue, Dublin 8, Ireland.

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Sat 25 Oct 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1874
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