The people of Ireland are in revolt. Over 100,000 brought the city of Dublin to a standstill on Wednesday of last week to deliver a message to the government—we will no longer put up with your austerity.
Ordinary people have faced six years of cuts and worsening poverty since the collapse of the economy.
Meanwhile there has only been a recovery for the rich. It was reported in October that the total number of millionaires has hit 90,000—out of a population of 4.5 million.
But the final straw for people has been the latest government swindle to set up a company to charge for water.
Lorraine O’Dwyer took her children out of school to travel the 70 miles from Wexford to attend the demonstration.
She told Socialist Worker, “It has been very hard. I’m a single mother and I’m working in retail. Six years ago I was married and had my own business.
“I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. I don’t know where I’ll find the money to pay the charges.
“I won’t pay, because I can’t. It’ll mean more late night calls from debt collectors, which is happening enough as it is.”
The governing coalition between Fine Gael and Labour wants to hit homes with a 260 euro (£208) a year per adult charge for water usage. This cost would increase over the years.
Irish Water already gets one billion euros from central taxes.
The march and rally was organised by the Right2Water campaign. But the rage people felt was much broader.
Like thousands of people on the protest, Lorraine was there to fight for a better future for young people who are facing years of austerity.
Since the crisis in 2008 an estimated 400,000 young people have been forced to leave the country and look for work elsewhere.
Lorraine said, “I don’t want to be paying to line the pockets of the friends of the politicians.
“I’m here for my kids and what they will be put through.”
What’s in store for the future was a fear shared by Michael Kelly, a plumber who travelled from Roscommon to join the protest.
“I’ve got three children in college and I can’t do anything for them, I’ve got no money. The alternative for them will be to emigrate,” he told Socialist Worker.
“I emigrated and my father emigrated before me. Enough is enough.
“It’s all bills, bills, bills. We have to make a stand.”
Michael and Mary Donnery from Dublin agreed. They said, “We were born in the 1930s and they were hard times, we had nothing.
“We are seeing a return to that now. People are being sent to their graves with nothing.
“They are being kicked out of their homes because they can’t afford their mortgage and are living in hotel rooms.
“It’s only going to get worse down the road—the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.”
Tens of thousands poured into Merrion Square opposite the Dail Eireann, the Irish parliament, from feeder marches across the city.
Thousands assembled at Heuston station to march along the city’s quayside to the rally.
Wednesday’s protest was just the latest step in the mass revolt against the planned charges.
In October 100,000 protested in Dublin. As a percentage of the population, this would be equivalent to 1.5 million marching in London.
This was followed up with a demonstration of 200,000 in November.
And it hasn’t just been huge national demonstrations in the capital. Mass protests and resistance has been seen on a local scale.
In November in Letterkenny, a town of 20,000 in Donegal, about 10,000 people marched.
In Drogheda, population 38,000, it was 8,000. In small towns like Swords, north of Dublin, and Bray, south of Dublin, Sligo in the north west and Waterford on the south coast, the figure was about 5,000.
Even in places such as Fermoy in Cork with a population of about 5,000 and Gorey in Wexford, population 9,000, saw up to 2,000 on the streets.
People have burnt their letters from Irish Water and have vowed not to pay the charge. In Merrion Square on Wednesday the crowd chanted, “No way, we won’t pay” and “From the river to the sea, Irish water will be free.”
The stakes are high—at the rally on Wednesday the biggest cheers went up for speakers who called for the fall of the government.
Richard Boyd Barrett is a People Before Profit member of the Irish parliament and has been one of the central figures of the Right2Water campaign.
He told the rally, “We are here to give the government an unmistakable message, either they make the right choices or they are out, they are history.”
The huge crowd in Merrion Square responded with chants of “Out, out, out!”
Anger was especially fierce toward hated Taoiseach, the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny of Fine Gael.
Throughout the day the feeder marches rang out with chants of “Enda Kenny, Kenny, Kenny—out, out, out!”
Diarmund said, “I think Kenny should be strung up. Let him call an election and see what happens.”
There is a growing mood for fundamental change across the country.
Until now there has been little in the way of resistance, with trade unions failing to organise a fightback (see below).
But people’s anger over austerity has found expression in the water charges movement.
Left wing populist party Sinn Fein are topping the opinion polls, and their leader Gerry Adams got a huge reception when he addressed the rally.
To cheers he told the crowd, “This is real democracy. You have put the government on the run.
“Struggle is about empowerment. And this is a brilliant example of people being empowered.
“You are never given your rights—you have to take them.”
But while Sinn Fein’s rhetoric may be radical in the south of Ireland, in Northern Ireland they have joined up with unionists to push through £870 million in cuts. This is then to be followed by a further £1.3 billion in cuts between 2016 and 2019.
The next stage of the movement will be crucial. Organisers are planning another demonstration for 31 January and are saying the fate of the government hangs on it.
Richard said, “In the new year we have to organise to assemble, all of us in the hundred places where there were demonstrations.
“You have to organise people’s assemblies in your area. Organise to plan how we will bring this government down and put forward an alternative.”
How to defy the charges
Nicky Coules is a People Before Profit councillor for Dublin South West. He made a YouTube video showing how to remove a water meter.
“I’m a plumber and I wanted to show people how easy it is to take it out,” he told Socialist Worker.
“It’s just a simple function but they make it like it’s this great big thing.”
Resistance to the installation of water meters has been met with state repression.
Gardai, the Irish police force, have occupied communities who turn out to block Irish Water from installing the meters.
In September People Before Profit councillor for Dublin City John Lyons was arrested for protesting against water meters.
Protesters in Dublin on Wednesday directed their fury at the police. Cops had erected barricades from early morning around the Dail.
Demonstrators chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” as police kettled people trying to cross the barricades.
‘Our unions should be calling us to come out’
Wednesday marked a change in the campaign as the protest took place on a working day.
Organisers encouraged people to walk out of work to join the lunchtime rally—and stay out.
But the trade unions have been a major weak point in the movement.
Siptu, Ireland’s largest trade union, organises Ireland’s water workers. It has the power to call its members out in defiance of the proposed charges.
Workers in the union have formed their own National Water Workers Committee to campaign to keep the water system in public ownership.
But the union leadership has consistently sought to undermine the movement.
The union backed Wednesday’s demonstration, but refused to call a strike.
It had previously refused to support the Right2Water campaign, which is backed by five other unions.
There is an argument that workers aren’t ready to be called out over the charges.
But this fails to reflect the anger that many workers feel at bearing the brunt of austerity.
Bus worker Diarmund Geraghty works for the Dublin Bus Company and is in the National Bus and Rail Union.
He came to the protest after finishing his shift.
“I’m broke,” he said. “I’m absolutely sick of having no money in my pocket.
“It’s not just about water charges, it’s everything. It’s Universal Social Charges and all the taxes.
“I’m a trade unionist, but I am so sick of the union. They should be calling us out over all of this.
“We’ve got no money, but we’ve all got families and mortgages to pay for.”
Robert Cummins, a Tesco worker in the Usdaw union agreed. He said, “People are being transformed—they don’t want to pay the charges and that’s that.
“We can’t do it any more, we’ve got kids to feed. The unions should be backing us to be out.”
One claim by union leaders is that those who fought back against charges in the past end up causing privatisation.
They use the example of the fight against plans to charge for rubbish collection in 2003.
But this is nonsense. People erupted in fury at the plans in much the same way as people are resisting the water charges today.
Many who resisted the plans were jailed. This included a number of key activists in today’s campaign.
They refused to accept a court injunction banning them from joining blockades of bin lorries taking place in some areas of Dublin.
The movement against bin charges was defeated—but not because people made a stand.
Then, as now, it was the Siptu leadership who played a large part in failing the movement.
While they backed resistance in theory, they instructed bin workers to obey council directives not to collect the rubbish of non-payers.
There is a real risk of history repeating itself with the movement against water charges.