Right2Water – strategy, tactics, unity

Right2Water was established as a broad based campaign with one key belief and one key objective – that water is a human right and that water charges should be abolished. 

Right2Water has three main pillars, all of whom bring their own unique skills and attributes to the campaign: 

  • Political parties/Independent Representatives – bring political knowledge; an ability to raise issues in the Dail and Seanad, and have activists in communities all over Ireland.
  • Trade Unions – bring organisational skills; are politically neutral; provide economic and political research; have activists in workplaces all over the country and bring financial assistance.
  • Community groups – are the heart of the movement’s resistance on the ground; have the ability to mobilise quickly and efficiently and provide a network of groups all over Ireland.

The combined potential of these three pillars is one of the reasons for the success of Right2Water so far. To date, the three pillars have worked closely together and with mutual respect for differences of opinions on tactics and strategies. 

Strategy

Part of Right2Water’s strategy was to provide a common platform which could create a more powerful voice than the sum of the individual components of the anti-water charges groups across Ireland. Right2Water wanted to not only mobilise people, but to educate citizens on the economic, social and political aspects behind water charges. We also wanted to provide a platform for all associated groups – political parties, community groups and trade unions – to get their own organisation’s position and tactics to the forefront. This has worked well over the past three mass demonstrations where all groups had the potential to get their message to a combined 300,000+ people.

The campaign also began with the aim of getting water charges as the number one item on the news agenda. Before the October 11th demonstration there was very little if any coverage of protests. That has since changed.
Tactics

There are three commonly accepted tactics of groups/people opposed to water charges in Ireland:

  1. Those who are blocking the installation of water meters;
  2. Those who are advocating non-payment;
  3. Those who will end up paying out of fear or for other personal reasons, but will hold political parties accountable at the next elections.

These groups are not mutually exclusive and many of them overlap. Right2Water welcomes all of the above inside the campaign.

At this point in time, Right2Water is a campaign and not an organisation with formal structures and decision making mechanisms. It was formed on the basis of consensus, with the intention to maximise and unify the number of people involved in resisting water charges. All you need to be part of the campaign is to believe that water is a human right and that water charges should be abolished. The tactics and strategies of individuals and organisations are up to themselves. It was on this basis that several more organisations and individuals have affiliated to the campaign since the launch in August 2014. We hope to grow in 2015 too.

Right2Water does not advocate any specific tactics but supports all groups and individuals who do. As a broad coalition of groups – all with their own decision making mechanisms – we have operated on the basis of common respect for differences of opinions, maximising numbers and on the basis of solidarity and unity.

Trade Unions, for instance, are democratic organisations run by their members. They can only advocate non-payment if their members put a motion to their annual or biennial conference and it is passed by a majority of their delegates (shop stewards). So far there are five unions in the campaign representing more than 100,000 workers, none of whom have official policies of non-payment.

Other groups, including some political parties, who have their own democratic structures, have not taken positions of advocating non-payment. This does not mean they are in favour of payment, only that they cannot officially call for non-payment at this moment in time because their members have not endorsed that position.

Right2Water has been based on the concept of inclusivity, with the age-old notion that there is strength in numbers and that the greatest way to defeat water charges is by standing together in the largest collective of citizens possible. For Right2Water to enter into the tactical sphere and dictate specific tactics would be to exclude certain groups and individuals from participating in the campaign. We believe this would dilute our numbers and our power. Therefore, at this point in time, we have not called for all supporters to block the installation of meters nor have we specifically called for non-payment from all supporters. The participation in these activities is a personal decision for the individuals and groups themselves.

Since the beginning of the campaign, Right2Water has embraced all those opposed to water charges, including those who are not comfortable with civil disobedience and those who may be intimidated into paying for their own personal reasons. 

What next?

While all protests to date have been extraordinarily successful, forcing the government into one of the biggest U-turns in the history of the state, it is now time to take stock and develop the campaign even further to ensure our key objective – the abolition of water charges. 

The campaign has no full-time staff and it has been coordinated and funded in most part by trade unions. There are only two or three people working part time on coordinating this campaign, which has no full time staff on social media or answering emails/questions. We understand this has caused considerable frustration but with the level of interaction, both with the media and the public, it has been impossible to respond to all communications. We regret any frustrations borne out of this situation but the campaign is currently looking to develop a more sustainable funding model for 2015 – ensuring maximum utilisation of resources.

In recent weeks, water charges legislation has been put on the statute books, which, we believe, is not the democratic will of the Irish people. Right2Water has given a commitment that we will have these water charges reversed and remove this legislation. At the launch of the Right2Water campaign we said we would ensure that water charges would be the number one issue in the run up to the next general election. This may mean working with political parties, community groups and trade unions to mobilise on a constituency by constituency basis forming a cohesive electoral strategy. This will all be developed in the coming months. 

Unity

We are on the precipice of achieving our goal, provided we can maintain the level of unity we have shown to date. Together we have mobilised an army of activists across the country – in every village, town and city. This level of mobilisation has never before been seen in Ireland and it is something we can all be proud of. 

If we can continue as a broad based coalition of political groups, trade unionists and most importantly community groups, displaying a mutual respect for diverse opinions on tactics – but unifying around our core belief, that water is a human right and water charges should be abolished, then there is no doubt that we can win and defeat these unfair water charges. This would represent the single greatest piece of people power in recent history. Let’s do it together.