The demonstration on 11 October and on 1 November with 100,000 and 150,000 marching in Dublin and throughout the state respectively against the water charges, was the most significant protest demo in the state in decades, writes Laura Fitzgerald.
Why? Because of the demonstration’s grassroots, “from below” nature, with working class communities locally organising to ensure large and vibrant turnouts from their areas.
The Dublin working class turned out in huge numbers. Parts of Dublin North East, where there has been a local revolt against water metering in recent weeks and months, had strikingly big and energetic contingents.
The intense opposition and anger felt by people on the issue – commodification of water – has of course been a central mobilising factor, and in significant local mobilisations, both against metering and also local demonstrations of thousands in every county etc. But the revolt against water charges is also the culmination of opposition to six years of relentless austerity, of the one-sided class war that the ruling elite have been waging on workers, the unemployed, the old, the young etc.
Talk of recovery breeds mood for fightback
The incessant heralding of an economic recovery by the Government and media in recent months has helped to crystallise a mood for a fightback. If there’s a recovery, why are they bringing in €500+ per annum water charges, and why should we accept them?
The ICTU demonstration in November 2010 represented a certain high point of opposition to austerity, and EU / IMF economic dictates, but was followed by total acquiescence by ICTU, which had a demoralising impact. The handful of subsequent ICTU demonstrations have often had a feel of a morbid funeral procession, with the mass of participants passively heeding a trade union call to march, but without any confidence that it would be used to actually build a movement of opposition.
No way, we won’t pay
In contradistinction, 11 October had a real sense of a burgeoning mass movement. It was loud, angry, enthusiastic, inspired. Mothers with children were a really prominent feature, often with the kids the loudest chanters of “No way – We won’t pay”. Bountiful home-made banners and placards ornately decorated the demonstration and illustrated the defiant and even confident mood that has been missing, and that can in turn have an impact in spurring on the broader mass of working class people to fight the water charges.
11 October in this way represents a real challenge to the supremacy of the ICTU Trade Union bureaucracy and its cutting-across of genuine working-class organisation and outcry against austerity.
Working class people get organised
The revolt against metering is also deeply significant. To see communities finding their own tools to organise effective action that in many cases has succeeded in preventing Irish Water from putting a single meter in estates, represents the inchoate but essential beginnings of working class self-organisation.
Mass street meetings have been developed as an efficient and effective aid to local campaigning, echoing the local assemblies we’ve seen in Spain and Greece in recent years that organised the anti-austerity struggle and movement at a local level. This new activity and organisation of sections of the working class who’ve never even protested before can be channelled into building an anti-water charges struggle that can win, and is an essential ingredient to the developing of a powerful left-wing.