As Irish Water begin their campaign of intimidation and the ‘packs’ arrive on people’s doorsteps it might be worth taking note of some of the struggles around the world that have successfully campaigned to keep domestic water under public control.
The Bolivian Water Wars of 2000 were not the only large scale resistance to the privatization of domestic water. Tensions erupted in Bolivia in 1999 when private companies tried to dramatically increase water rates with the ridiculous suggestion of charging people for collecting rainwater; this led to a series of mass protests, organized through the Coordinadora in Defense of Water and Life, a community coalition. In April 2000 the national government backed down and reversed the privatization.
A report by the European Federation of Public Services Unions compiled between Nov 2012 and Sept 2013 found that despite fiscal pressures there are clear signs that municipalities are continuing to move towards re-municipalisation rather than privatisation of services in a number of countries in Europe including Germany, France and the UK.
In the UK services are being brought ‘back in house’ as outsourcing has proven to be inefficient , the Financial Times, suggested “local authorities have grown skeptical about the savings outsourcing can deliver, as well as fearing a backlash against private companies making large profits from the taxpayer.”
A survey by APSE in 2011 found that 80 out of 140 councils in the UK had brought back local services on the expiry of private contracts. This has been driven by economic failure and value for money calculations. The reduction of costs and greater efficiency of in house services has been a major factor in councils taking back their services. The re-municipalisation of water in Paris for example led to a price reduction of 8%.
This summer, a victory was achieved in Greece when the Council of State ruled against the privatization of public water companies. Solidarity and grassroots action stopped the pro privatization parties in their tracks. The Troika plan to sell off Greek water was met with a huge mobilization and campaigns which demonstrated the overwhelming opposition to water privatization.
While this is good news we have to be fully aware that the Irish State is still pushing ahead with their plans to charge us twice for water which is a prelude to the privatisation of our domestic water supply. Most of us will get an estimated bill next January despite the fact that we pay for our water through our taxation system. If significant numbers do not pay, it will be very difficult for Irish Water to force them, especially if we get organized like the people of Bolivia and Greece and others across Europe, to resist the privatization agenda.
Irish people need to mobilize and fight for the recognition of water as a human right and a common good. Let us not forget that mass opposition stopped the introduction of domestic water charges in the 1990s and it can be achieved again. There will be a national demonstration against the introduction of water charges on Saturday October 11th at 2 pm meeting at the Garden of Remembrance, come along and show your opposition to the imposition of water charges.