Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Irish Communities Unite to Resist Water Charges

Two have been hospitalised defending their right to water from the Troika
For more than three weeks now, people in major Irish cities have been taking direct action to prevent Irish Water from installing so-called 'smart meters', which many believe will push the cost of water - the most vital of all substances, beyond their ability to pay. In doing so, they are providing the first active resistance to the attacks on the working class demanded by the 'Troika' since Irish austerity began six years ago.

The resistance seems to have begun in the south-west city of Cork, before spreading to Dublin. There are few reports of it taking place elsewhere, but then there are very few reports at all, considering the significance of what is happening. As ever, it seems that the corporate, political and media establishment is seeking to downplay working class struggle, due to fear of 'contagion' to other locations and other causes

Just over a million meters are scheduled to be installed, and from the autumn the homes will go on the meter for the first time. International studies have shown that meters have reduced household water consumption by between 10 and 15%. But of course, water use isn't even as 'optional' as electricity is. It is an essential part of human life, and of the human body. So in that sense, no wonder people are resisting.

At its most simple, resistance involves community members literally placing their bodies where the Irish Water contractors are trying to dig, as shown on this video. In other cases - where holes are discovered already dug - people are climbing into them, and therefore preventing the workers placing the meters there. Particularly in Cork, it seems that those resisting the meters are creating phone trees and other means of coordinating their defence of their living conditions within and between estates. As of yet, the Gardai (police) do not seem to be intervening forcefully on the side of Irish Water, even though they have warned of possible arrests from the beginning. But this surely can't be ruled out.

The blockades started around the 14th April, in Cork's Ashbrook Heights estate, and had reached Dublin by the 23rd. On 30th, an Ashbrook Heights protester named John O'Donovan was taken to hospital by ambulance, after falling to the ground in a confrontation with an Irish Water employee. An eyewitness complained that the employee had ran at a barrier, knocking O'Donovan to the ground.

Protester Theresa Kelly was assaulted in Dublin today
On May Day, activists occupied the Irish Water HQ in protest at the installations. The next day, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny was heckled by anti-water meter protesters in Cork, as he campaigned for the European elections. After a few days of relative calm, the conflict seems to have intensified once more. Yesterday, Environment Minister Phil Hogan threatened that the water supply will be reduced "to a trickle" for those who don't pay their bills. Today in Dublin, a woman had her elbow fractured when she had a plastic barrier "shoved into her", resulting in "her falling violently to the ground".

The attacks on access to water for the Irish working class were dictated by the 'Troika' of International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission back in 2012, in return for a bailout of Ireland's banking sector, which suffered heavily in the 2008 crash. In January, cabinet minister Pat Rabbitte broke ranks with his colleagues when complained that the Troika had "railroaded" the government into making the changes too quickly. In other words, the representatives of finance capital have insisted that the Irish government make its citizens pay for water on a timescale most convenient for them, despite practical reservations from those doing the implementing.

There has been little to no popular resistance to Irish austerity over the last few years, despite the weighty burden imposed on the working class. This mini uprising hopefully indicates that there could be more to come. Certainly, the fact that people are risking life and limb over a charge which Enda Kenny has claimed will be about €240 (£200) per year shows that this attack is very much the straw which broke the camel's back.
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