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9 June 2005 Edition

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Water Charges - the case for mass non-payment

GARY MULCAHY of the We Won't Pay campaign puts the case for a campaign of mass non-payment to defeat water charges in the Six Counties.

It is obvious that direct-rule Ministers in the Six Counties are determined to implement their water 'reform' package. The process of switching the water service to a private company is well under way. Fat cat directors from the private water multinationals have been recruited on big salaries and are busy destroying the water service as a public service. The government is ambitiously racing ahead with its plans, ignoring all opposition. So how can water charges be defeated?

The 'We Won't Pay' Campaign (WWP) was set up in 2003 to build a campaign of mass non-payment to defeat water charges and is affiliated to the Coalition Against Water Charges. While the WWP Campaign has organised and continues to support protests and demonstrations, we believe this alone is not enough. Instead of lobbying the government or hoping that a restoration of the Assembly will scrap the charge, we believe the only strategy that can succeed is a mass non-payment campaign.

By this, we mean a campaign based in all local communities, which organises people to stick together and refuse to pay. Such non-payment type campaigns have succeeded before. In Britain in the '80s, Thatcher was defeated over the Poll Tax by mass non-payment. In the 1990s, the Southern government's attempt to introduce water charges was also defeated by a non-payment campaign. We can do the same with Blair's water tax.

Rent and Rates Strike

We were disappointed to read Gerry Adams' letter in the Irish News (2 May) candidly stating his opposition to non-payment. Mr Adams referred to the experience of the rent and rates strike against internment in the 1970s. However, there are fundamental differences between that event and today's struggle against water charges.

Firstly, in reality the rent and rates strike was isolated to a section of the nationalist population. Today, with water charges due to arrive at every household, there is massive opposition in both nationalist and unionist communities. This has been confirmed from the campaigning work the WWP Campaign has carried out in both communities. This represents a qualitative difference to the rent and rates strike and is a far more widespread basis of support. It is also more difficult to change a government's overall policy, such as internment, than to defeat a specific policy (water charges), especially if it is a new charge.

Secondly, the rent and rates strike was a spontaneous movement after a call for people not to pay had been made by some Nationalist MPs and organisations such as the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. There was no democratically organised campaign existing in advance, which could have maintained non-payment and extended it across all areas. The WWP Campaign is building local groups in communities across the board well in advance of water charges being introduced.

Gerry Adams also argues that the draconian Payment of Debt (Emergency Powers) Act, which was disgracefully introduced by the SDLP to defeat the rent and rates strike, is still on the statute books and will make it impossible for mass non-payment to succeed. But this legislation was actually abolished in 1990.

There is, however current legislation (Attachment of Earnings Orders), which allows individuals to be taken to court for non-payment of debts. While the Payment of Debt Act covered everybody who refused to pay in one sweep, the current legislation can only bring individuals to court case-by-case. This is very similar to the legislation which existed in Britain at the time of the anti-poll tax struggle. By contesting each case, the courts system became entirely clogged up, with individual cases bringing the court system to a shuddering halt. The Thatcher government had no choice but to abandon the poll tax.

Water charges are a huge attack on working class communities. That is why we appeal to readers of An Phoblacht to join us and say 'We Won't Pay'!

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtar├ín Mary Lou McDonald.

Buy An Phoblacht magazine here

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