In March the Revenue Commissioners will post property tax demands to 1.9 million homes. People will be asked under threat of penalty to register by 7 May (forms) or electronically by May 28. The Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT) is calling on householders to ignore the forms and to refuse to register.
If there is going to be a serious fight against the property tax there is going to have to be a serious boycott of the property tax registration process.
The government are threatening to deduct property tax from peoples’ wages and social welfare from 1 July if people do not register for the tax.
That shows the need for a msssive campaign of street protest and civil disobedience to force the Government to either abandon the tax or to back off from plans to implement deductions.
But how can massive street protest and civil disobedience be built if people have already registered for the tax?
A high level of registration would give the Government and the media a field day as they spread the message that resistance is futile. It would give the trade union leaders an excuse not to act.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has described CAHWT’s boycott campaign as a “gimmick”. Not so, boycott is an essential prerequisite for a fight on this issue. What is a “gimmick” is Sinn Fein’s pretence that the property tax can be fought through the parliament without a mass campaign which includes boycotting registration.
Because of deductions boycott must be linked to massive levels of protest aimed at forcing a Government retreat. Conversely, protest must be linked to boycott. The two go hand in hand.
The government are threatening penalties for those who refuse to register.
The property tax legislation rushed through the Dail before Christmas gives Revenue the power to double the property tax for those who don’t sign up. On top of this there is a hefty 8% per annum penalty for non-payers.
Legal opinion differs as to whether Revenue have the power to deduct penalties from wages and social welfare payments without first taking court action. In the meantime, there is always the possibility that the government may introduce legislation to resolve any uncertainty in favour of granting such draconian powers.
Within the CAHWT National Steering Committee (NSC) United left Alliance TDs Joan Collins and Clare Daly have argued for a cautious approach to the boycott call.
Both have supported the idea that the boycott call should not be raised until such time as the legal position on penalty deductions is more clear.
Both have argued that the boycott call should be reviewed in late April with the option to be kept open of withdrawing the call at that point.
Clare Daly has argued that the campaign took a similar approach last year by calling for mass non-registration by St Patrick’s Day in the run up to the 31 March household tax deadline.
This is a disingenuous argument. The call to build mass non-registration by 17 March last year was aimed at building confidence among the broad mass with a view to carrying mass non-payment over the line. That is a very different thing from setting a date for reviewing a boycott and keeping open an option to call it off. One wag at the NSC said he felt that Clare Daly was advocating the most obedient campaign of civil disobedience in history!
Last years household tax campaign is instructive however on the issue of how to beat back the government from implementing penalties.
At the time of writing 662,000 households STILL continue to boycott the household tax. This is despite the powers the State have to take non-payers to court where they can face fines of €2,500 plus €100 per day.
Why have these sanctions not been implemented? Because a huge mass of people are defying the law. The best way to prevent sanctions is not by hedging your bets and equivocating, rather it is by actively building the boldest and most widespread boycott possible.
A very big boycott of property tax registration would make it difficult for Revenue and the government to deduct property tax from wages and social welfare let alone to deduct penalties on top of this.
While defending the call for boycott, socialists must be careful not to ignore its limitations.
A mass boycott of the household tax forced the government into a stalemate last year. Boycott will not be able to achieve as much this year precisely because the government plan to circumvent it by deducting at source. That’s why we need to build a much bigger, much more active and more militant campaign in 2013.
Such a campaign will need to be big enough and militant enough to force the government to back down on deductions. But this campaign will need to be built on the solid foundations of a mass boycott. That is why the boycott position needs to be defended, explained and fought for in the weeks ahead.