Household and Water Charges

Statement by the National Executive Council of SIPTU on the Right2Water Protest

Date Released: 05 December 2014

The SIPTU NEC statement of 21st November 2014 concluded: “Therefore, in the absence of a declaration by the Government of its intention to provide every household with an adequate supply of water to meet all its domestic needs, at no direct cost, while retaining a tariff on non-essential use only and to legislate for a Referendum to prohibit privatisation, we will work with other trade unions and civil society organisations, including those involved in Right2Water, to campaign through peaceful protests and other democratic actions, to achieve these objectives”.

Since then, the Government has given no indication of any further movement in its position.

Therefore, we have sought engagement with the trade unions involved in the current Right2Water Campaign with a view to the development of a common platform on the issue across the movement.

Pending the outcome of any discussions with the other trade unions, we would encourage members to participate in the Right2Water protest which is scheduled to take place at Leinster House, Merrion Square, Dublin 2 at 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday 10th December 2014, of their own volition, if they are free and available to do so.  We believe that every peacefully conducted protest and democratic action has the potential to help further the demands for an adequate supply of water to meet the normal domestic needs of every household at no direct cost and a Referendum to change the Constitution so as to prohibit the privatisation of the public water supply.

21st November 2014

Statement by the National Executive Council of SIPTU in response to the Government’s policy announcement of 19th November 2014 on the public water supply.

The Government’s initiative of 19th November 2014, while offering clarity and certainty on water charges, will not provide a comprehensive long-term solution for the challenges confronting the development of the public water system.

· Its most immediate flaw is that the charges regime remains regressive in character. The objective should be to provide every household with an adequate supply of water to meet all their domestic needs at no direct cost, while retaining the option of a tariff on non-essential use only as a conservation measure. The Government should announce its intention to do this.

· Policy on the development of the public water supply should not be decided in the context of a fiscal austerity programme, which is now totally unnecessary in any event. It calls for a properly informed and structured public debate. If the current projections for economic growth are achieved, Irish Water could be re-designated as a democratically controlled Water Authority or a non-commercial semi-state company within the lifetime of the next government, without further increasing taxation or cutting public spending. This would enable charges to be dispensed with altogether, retaining a tariff on non-essential use only.

· We must have a Referendum to insert a provision in the Constitution prohibiting the privatisation of the public water supply. Otherwise, there is a real danger that we will drift into privatisation due, for example, to the inability of Irish Water to collect its revenues. In this regard, we welcome the decision of the Executive Council of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to support, promote and campaign for such a referendum.

Therefore, in the absence of a declaration by the Government of its intention to provide every household with an adequate supply of water to meet all its domestic needs at no direct cost, while retaining a tariff on non-essential use only and to legislate for a Referendum to prohibit privatisation, we will work with other trade unions and civil society organisations, including those involved in Right2Water, to campaign through peaceful protests and other democratic actions, to achieve these objectives.

ICTU DayofAction All Locations

Protest on Feb 9th

Lift the Burden – Jobs Not Debt

Ireland makes up less than 1% of Europe’s population, but are expected to repay debt of €64 billion – far bigger than the bank debt of major powers like Germany, the UK and Spain.

We comprise a tiny fraction of the European economy but have pumped more into our banks than any other EU state.

  • So far, the average EU citizen has paid €192 to cover the cost of their bust banks.
  • But our bank bailout has cost every Irish citizen almost €9000 – nearly 50 times the EU average!
  • And we are expected to pay more!

Our bank bailout prevented the collapse of the European banking system and probably saved the Euro.

The whole EU benefited, but we are expected to foot the €64 billion bill alone.

The bank debt burden is unsustainable and unjust. It will cripple us for generations to come.

No matter what sacrifices we make, or how ‘competitive’ we become, there is no hope of recovery until this burden is lifted.

We must act now and send a clear message across Europe. Join the National Protests on Saturday, February 9 (assemble 1.30pm).

Assembly Point

DUBLIN: Cook Street (near Civic Offices, Wood Quay);

CORK: SIPTU offices, Connolly, Hall Lapps Quay;

GALWAY: Cathedral Car Park; LIMERICK: Mechanics

Institute, Harstonge Street; WATERFORD: The Glen (in front  of the Forum); SLIGO: Sligo County Council Offices, Riverside

The heckling of union leaders at marches is a serious issue that needs far more discussion on the left. To cheer-lead it is very mistaken. Yes, a factor is a genuine angry response from “ordinary workers” to the lack of action, and indeed past actions, of the trade union leaders. Union leaders who have been on the receiving end of heckling and booing need to realise that there are consequences attached to their “brave” decisions to support unpopular cutbacks and climb downs. They need to end their aristocratic outrage at being crudely criticised by the Democracy. But by what proportion has this factor (the noble mob) featured in the actual incidents? Among the most active hecklers, even where leaders from the left sought to defuse the heckling, there were some political activists and members of left organisations.

For the organised left there are two questions: how can we call on the union leaders to take actions and when they do support a march, put money into it, and join the platform, then tolerate, support or even encourage a verbal barrage against them on that occasion? Furthermore, how can we co-operate with all stages of the organisation of a march, jointly organise a march in fact, and then tolerate, support or even encourage a verbal barrage against some of the speakers agreed as part of the organisation of the march? What game is being played?

Secondly we need to ask if it is a good thing that we now have a situation where trade union leaders – of any hue – cannot address a public rally without being shouted down? To begin with, the recent barracking, at the CAHWT National Stadium rally and at the 24th November anti-austerity march, was the product of, or plugged into, an ignorance of the trade union movement, its configuration and its recent history. The speaker in the first case was Mick O’Reilly (a supporter of CAHWT) and in the second was Eugene McGlone. As it happens both together were the joint subjects of a high-profile case of victimisation by their own union leadership, with the possible involvement of figures outside their union, related to supporting workers in struggle and their general oppositional stance in the movement. Barracking Eugene McGlone as if he was a centrally influential member of the executive of the ICTU was like pillorying the robbed rather than the robber. That educated socialists should collaborate with this ignorance is disappointing.

In any case, the substantial question for the left is whether it is a good situation or principle that trade union leaders effectively cannot speak in public in Dublin at this time without being barracked? Let’s leave over–the-top talk of fascism aside. The question does touch on a growing contention that the union leaders are the enemy, or an enemy (the main facilitators/agency of privatisation and austerity), rather than a conservative bureaucracy within the workers’ movement subject to pressure from the members below as well as from the employers and the state. Presuming the latter, as I do, means that, especially in a phase like the present when independent action at shop floor level is unlikely, moving or persuading or assisting union leaders to lead the members in some kind of fight back is important. The involvement of the leaders, and therefore of the official structures, authority and resources of the trade unions, is to be worked for, not their banishment from the streets. Rather than quietly smiling at the hectoring or even egging it on the left needs to tackle it among its members and supporters and provide some tactical and historical education to its followers. Rather than the shallow but ineffective satisfaction of shouting down union leaders in O’Connell Street the left should, as it does only sporadically, challenge union leaders where it matters, in the unions, at union branches, general meetings and conferences, organising majorities, or influential minorities, to overturn the uninterrupted dominance of officialdom.

DD 20-01-13

This day last year, 16th January 2012, was a black day for Irish trade unionism. From that day bin collection in Dublin was carried out by a private firm, Greyhound, after Dublin City Council sold the business to them bringing bin collection by the city to an end after almost 150 years. The privatisation of bin collection in Dublin City Council was, among all the recent setbacks and climb downs of the trade union movement, a symbolic defeat in a heartland of Irish blue collar trade unionism. The Dublin bins have gone the way of other emblematic and once seemingly impregnable redoubts of Irish trade union stability, such as the integrity and public status of electricity supply and the sacredness of the JLC/ERO system. Unlike signal defeats further back, those at Pat the Baker, Ryanair and Irish Ferries for instance, the Dublin bins passed with only a whimper.

That the privatisation of Dublin city bin collection happened at all was a depressing development. The manner in which it occurred served only to lower the mood further. As the changeover happened some of the bin workers themselves were certainly dissatisfied with the situation and with the unions:

“Before heading out [for the last time at Davitt Road depot], the men  met for about half an hour to discuss their options. There was talk of “missed opportunities”, of how they should have balloted for industrial action before Christmas, or sat in in the depot last week, keeping the lorries hostage. They derided both council management and their unions – Impact and Siptu. Shortly after 6.30am the seven crews set out. It was minus 1 degree, and still dark….” (Irish Times, 14th January 2012)

Even though this privatisation had been flagged for ages “Dublin city’s 110 former bin-men will not be told until Friday [21st January] what their new jobs will be”. (Irish Times, 16th January 2012) This was two days after their jobs had gone! How could this be let happen in a well organised workplace represented by two of the biggest unions in the county? If the axe had to fall couldn’t the basic terms and conditions of such a change not have been negotiated long in advance of D-day? The Irish Times report continues:

“At a meeting today at the Civic Offices, assistant city manager, Séamus Lyons, told the former binmen their ‘basic pay’ would be protected following their redeployment to other departments. They may be reassigned to work in the parks, water, roads, housing or drainage sections. A number expressed their anger that they still did not know where they would be working from next Monday. Mr Lyons said … they [the workers] would hear later this week the number of vacancies in each section and, based on seniority, who would have first preference for certain positions.

Later they were addressed by officials from Impact and Siptu, who said negotiations on the cleansing allowance and redeployment would continue tomorrow. They would brief the men again on Friday.”

As the bin tax campaign always argued, the fate of the bin workers and of the citizens were always linked. A media storm focused on the effects of the privatisation on the bin charges to Dublin tenants and householders, and on the plummeting quality of bin collection (e.g. Irish Times 24 January & 4th February, 2012).

Not unsurprisingly, this produced a media din louder than anything on the effects of the privatisation on the bin workers, on trade union strength and on the rights and conditions for both Dublin City Council and Greyhound workers. However, despite the claim to the contrary in the above Irish Times report from Davitt Road depot, Greyhound was not a non-union firm, whatever about the strength and fate of that unionisation. The debacle did not reach so low as to pass Dublin bin collection from a union stronghold to a union wasteland. As others – The City Bin Co. (with an opening offer of €99, all-in, for 3 bins for 12 months) – now move in to grab, like scavengers at a city dump, some of the market from Greyhound, it remains to be seen how trade union organisation in Dublin bin collection survives this race to the bottom.

The maintenance of the municipalisation of waste disposal in Dublin city was the last stand in a restructuring process that was decisively boosted by the defeat of the bin tax campaign. A defeat that, ironically, was sealed by the refusal of trade union officialdom to support the collection of all Dublin bins (paid or unpaid) at the beginning of the campaign*. A seal that was imprinted in wax by the highest official of the trade union movement in his denunciation of the jailed campaign leaders, a repudiation eagerly afforded front page headline promulgation by the Irish Times.

It was not, as Minister Pat Rabitte has claimed, because of the anti-bin tax campaign that the state was “successful in privatising the bin service right across the city.” It was because the valiant efforts of the thousands of people in the bin tax campaign were not successful that the state was “successful in privatising the bin service right across the city.” The imposition of charges on, the commodification of, bin collection was a prerequisite of the privatisation for profit of bin collection. As Joes Higgins and the campaign said, now and constantly at the time: “Imposing charges is a set-up and a preparation of the ground for privatisation.”

The process unfolded exactly as the campaign explained it would, including the escalation of the original bin charge to what it is now (with waivers also questioned). Just as the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes argued that the initial charges were bound for multiple rises.

Yet this last act in the process was an act in another process too: the collapse of the unions in the face of the offensive to make workers pay for the economic crisis and the implosion of the bubble. The end of Dublin City Council bin collection may or may not be directly connected with the Croke Park deal, but it is of a piece with it insofar as hitherto unimaginable changes and cuts are passively accepted in and by the trade union movement. Changes and cuts which serve only the purpose of bailing out the banks and the ’1%’ who cling to them, transferring wealth from working people to the fabulously rich, dismantling the gains won over decades of struggle and weakening the trade unions especially on the ground.

Without being close to the process of privatisation and of the ‘waste disposal’ of decades of trade union organisation and of 100 trade union members displaced by the privatisation,  it is not possible to ascertain exactly what happened and who in our own organisations bears a responsibility for this sorry episode. Was this another ‘reform’ eased through by union representatives? Was it the end result of workers left with little fight, or obvious alternative, by years of disillusion, demoralisation and defeat? But what is needed, to salvage even something abstract out of this, is not so much to point the finger of blame as to learn a lesson. Not a lesson from deep analysis of the entrails of this setback of minor historical proportions, but a simple and obvious lesson for all levels of our movement and especially those with some capacity left to act on it.

Nothing is sacred. If the Dublin bin workers can be replaced by Greyhound, and replaced so easily, there is nothing that cannot be taken away. Walk down Davitt Road and Collins Avenue and see the state, test the strength, of the trade union movement. We don’t need to reinforce our battalions; we need to build all over again from the bottom up. It is nearer 1913 than we ever thought.

Simultaneous with the pitiful departure of the regiments from the Dublin depots came an uplifting and sudden struggle from another old guard section, the Vita Cortex workers in the second city, Cork. But we were not going to be handed a rejuvenated army on a plate. The Vita Cortex sit-in was heroic and heartening, and stood as the herald of a possible fight back. But it was also the desperate struggle for previously secure rights which came to its own natural if uplifting end, leaving little organisation behind, even when the struggle was won and these seasoned members scattered and left the field. We have to wake up and renew our unions by beginning to make a stand in the places where we have forces we can build up, by making a stand in the workplace now, in the union sections now, on the streets now, and not when we face a do-or-die fight to get the best we can before going down the road. Dublin City Council bin collection should have been one of those places where we made a stand.


* In Cabra a very solid local campaign had excellent connections with the bin workers. So solid in fact that in areas of Cabra large numbers were still not paying six years later (2009) and their bins were still being collected.

DD 16-01-13

From the Union this morning:

17th February, 2012

SIPTU NEC calls for suspension of proposed Household Charge

The National Executive Council (NEC) of SIPTU has called on the Government to suspend the proposed Household Charge on the basis that it is unfair and regressive.

At its monthly meeting today (Friday, 17th February) the NEC unanimously supported a motion stating that;

“The Household Charge as currently proposed by the Government is a flat tax which is unfair and regressive in that it subsidises wealthy people at the expense of middle and low income families. The NEC supports the principle of a fair and progressive property tax which is proportionate and which recognises that wealthy households can afford to pay more than those with modest earnings while those on lower incomes should be exempt.

We call on the Government to suspend the introduction of the Household Charge until it is replaced by a fair and progressive property tax. The way the tax is currently being implemented is playing into the hands of those wealthy and vested interests who oppose the very principle of a fair and progressive property tax system.

The Government estimates that payment of the charge by the 1.6m eligible households will yield €160m in 2012. By way of an interim alternative source of revenue until a progressive property tax regime can be put in place we are calling for a suspension of the legacy property tax reliefs.

We have previously called on the Government to introduce a solidarity levy on those earning over €100,000 which would also make up for lost revenues from the proposed Household Charge.

The immediate suspension of all unused section 23 tax reliefs and accelerated capital allowances has the potential to save the Exchequer close to €100m in tax foregone this year.

Restricting landlord mortgage interest relief for both residential and non-residential properties by 10% would bring in an estimated €75m, which together with the suspension of the unused tax reliefs would more than offset the loss of €160m in additional tax revenues from the Household Charge, saving the Exchequer up to €175m.”