water protest

The movement from below – working class self-organisation

By Ruth Coppinger TD

In the last six years, austerity was imposed without the same level of protest as took place in other countries. Working class people were reeling from the shock of the recession and, of course, given no lead by the union leadership. Now, the establishment’s claims of economic recovery have given more confidence to people to challenge austerity, crystallising around the hated water charges.

Organising from below

Rather than wait for a lead, communities have acted themselves, against the installation of water meters in particular. People have re-learnt methods of self-organising: giving their spare time to a cause on an ongoing basis, building contacts and networks with neighbours, seeing themselves as ‘activists’ in a way that has not happened for some time.

The phenomenon of the outdoor street meeting has really taken off, a way of reaching more people and bypassing difficulties faced by families in getting to indoor public meetings at night. All questions and views are democratically aired at these gatherings and, while political activists may give a lead, those in no party are equally to the fore.

Just as significant is the way in which Government leaders are routinely met with spontaneous protests, preventing them from going about their usual public relation business of trying to be photographed in soft-focus situations, presenting awards and such like. Enda Kenny now regularly meets this fate. The detainment of Tánaiste Joan Burton in Jobstown was the ultimate example. Residents heard of her planned appearance, spread word and decided to delay her car to display their anger.

Demonising legitimate protest

The fear of independent, working class action is what has the establishment so perturbed. They know this has repercussions well beyond water charges. The “lower orders” may start asking other questions about the injustice of the class system, about wealth, power and capitalism itself.

That’s why the billionaire-owned media has gone into overdrive with derogatory labels like “mob”, “terrorists”, “dissidents” and a “sinister fringe”. As Paul Murphy TD put it in the Dáil; yes, there is a sinister fringe – the 1% tiny minority who run society in their greedy interests, the super-rich and the bondholders whose debts the 99% were forced to pay at the expense of our health, education and livelihoods.

It’s vital we maintain the actions and the self-organising. It has forced temporary concessions on water charges but it has also led to a dramatic decline in the power of the establishment parties. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour combined are now at less than 50% support in the polls, unthinkable some years ago. The rotten elements of the trade union leaderships – the Jack O’Connors and David Beggs – have been powerless, despite their best efforts, to foist a rotten deal in the face of the scale of working class activity.

The water charges can be defeated and with it we can bring down this government. More significantly a new exciting chapter of working class self-organisation has opened up, the likes of which we have not seen in a generation.

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