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Anti-water charges campaign grows in strength


In a boost to the growing momentum of the anti-water charges campaign in the Six Counties, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have thrown their weight behind a policy of mass non-payment.

The British government are set to introduce water charges in the North as of April this year, despite the fact that people already pay for their water through their rates (local taxation).

What is proposed is a blatant re-run of the Thatcherite policy of the 1980s, which ended, under the same cover of ‘modernisation’, in the privatisation of the water service in England and Wales.

The ICTU are now advocating non-payment of the charges as the “best way to overturn the (British) Government’s proposals.”  A leaflet to this effect will be going to every home in the North signed by the campaign group, ‘Trade Unions Against Water Charges’.

ICTU have spelt out their position in the following terms: “The opposition to water charges has created unprecedented unity in every community.  The way to put the unity into practice is through a united refusal to pay.  We urge you to get involved in your local non-payment campaign.  Already, tens of thousands of people have pledged to refuse to pay.”

Regarding the rights of active objectors to the charges, they had this to say: “The legal position is clear:  Non-payment is NOT a criminal offence, and the water company CANNOT turn off your domestic supply. Neither can they just dock your wages or benefits.  They would have to take every individual non-payer separately through the Small Claims Court.  If there’s enough of us, they’ll find it impossible.”

John Corey, General Secretary of the Six County public services union, NIPSA, has also made clear that privatisation of the water service is unacceptable stating that “if the water service is sold off as this government is clearly planning, then the main beneficiaries will not be the people of Northern Ireland (sic) but private shareholders of multi-nationals that will seize on the opportunity of profiting at all our expense. Today all of us are stakeholders in the water service. It is not for sale and we do not wish our Water Service to levy bills on every household.”

He continued: “We don’t need further consultation exercises.  The way for the people to let their opinion be known is to back non-payment.  By withholding our water payments, the people will also be saying no to privatisation.  To paraphrase Bob Dylan, ‘Don’t Pay Twice, It’s Alright’.”

éirígí chairperson Brian Leeson welcomed the trade union initiative and called on them to see this particular struggle through to its conclusion.

“Feeling against the imminent water charges in the Six Counties is clearly building and ICTU’s announcement is a welcome practical step.  The only way the proposed British charges are going to be defeated is through a mass campaign of non-payment that is led by communities, trade unions and other progressive groups.

“However, the relevant trade unions must give an assurance that they are in this very winnable campaign for the long haul.  For example, if the British government enacts legislation which enables the deduction of unpaid water charges at source from wages or benefit the unions must ensure that unionised civil servants refuse to co-operate with, or implement, such deductions.”

Brian continued: “No British government has the right to make us pay for our own water nor has any British government the right to privatise the natural resources of Ireland.  If enough people rally together on this issue it will be possible to defeat the British government and its policy of rolling privatisation in Ireland.”

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