On the demand “For a safe water supply owned and operated by citizens for citizens and not for profit”

Cobh Says No has sent out a nationwide call for coordination between anti-water charges groups based around the following demands:

* For the immediate and complete abolition of water charges
* For the immediate disbanding of Irish Water
* Opposition to the installation of water meters as a charging device
* Boycott of registration and payment of Water bills
* For a safe water supply owned and operated by citizens for citizens and not for profit

The final demand was added at the meeting which decided to send the call out, the impulse behind it being an opposition to privatisation of water supply. Because of this motivation, I didn’t argue against it at the time, but on reflection I realise that it is badly phrased and could easily be read to mean something more than intended.

First, there is a problem with the word “citizens” – we live in a class society, and this has seldom been so evident as in this fight, where the opposition to the water charges is predominantly working class, both in social background and in self-identification. Use of “citizen” implies that all classes are in this together, as do phrases like “people power”. For instance the billionaire Denis O’Brien is a citizen but he is a citizen who can buy votes and manipulate public opinion through his controlling shareholding of the INM media empire.

The reality is that the water charges are yet another attempt by the likes of Denis O’Brien to impose the costs of capitalist crisis on the working class. As I have argued elsewhere, the involvement of the trade unions, workers organised as a class, will be key to winning this fight.

Views within the campaign vary widely of course on how we see class society, and I’m not advocating we should simply replace “citizens” with “workers”. I actually don’t think this campaign should be taking a position on who should control the water supply. Water will never be equally owned and controlled by all while capitalism still exists, and I certainly don’t think a broad based anti-water-charges campaign should be taking a view on the overthrow of capitalism (despite advocating that myself!).

It would have been far preferable if we had used a simple negative such as “no privatisation of water supply” – a demand that all can unite around regardless of specific opinions on how society as a whole should be organised and I regret not suggesting this at the time. Our campaign has succeeded so far by being simple and clear, allowing those with different worldviews to fight together on the issue that unites us – opposing water charges.


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