What is needed to Build a National Campaign against the Household Tax


Workers Solidarity Movement member Gregor Kerr gave the leadoff at the session dealing with "Organising the Campaign" at the successful National Forum of the Campaign Against Household and Water Taxes on Saturday 10th September. What follows is the text of his contribution:

"I realise that I’m sitting in from of a room packed with experienced campaigners – people who are veterans of previous campaigns on water taxes and bin taxes, and who have been involved in many other local and national campaigns.  There is a wealth of experience and knowledge in this room so I want to start by apologising if I am over-simplifying anything. 

But I only want to apologise to a certain extent because I believe that simplifying things is something we should all do at every step of the campaign that we are about to embark on.  We should go out of our way to involve others, to support and encourage new people or people with little or no experience and to make sure that the campaign we build is inclusive of all.

Political campaigning should not be the preserve of ‘experts’ or leaders or people with experience.  I’m not saying that from any ideological perspective although my anarchist ideology would obviously inform and re-inforce that view.  But I’m saying it purely from a practical point of view – there is only one way in which this tax can be defeated – that is through the mass involvement of hundreds of thousands of people.

For the campaign to be built successfully we will need the mass involvement of hundreds of thousands of people not just as non-payers but as organisers in their local areas.

If the last few years have shown us anything it’s that the combined forces of the left are very much on the back foot.  If we’re going to defeat this tax we need to build a campaign that reaches way beyond the audience that we usually attract.  AND we need to support and encourage that audience to become players – to give up the role of onlooker while politics happens around them and become involved in shaping the decisions that affect them.

The clientelist nature of Irish politics means that most people want someone else to do stuff for them, to solve their problems.  We need to convince people that there is no ‘somebody’ to win this battle, that it will only be won by their active involvement.  We need to go out of our way to support and encourage people to get involved in actively building this campaign in their areas.

People who never discussed politics with their neighbours before – we want to support and encourage them to knock on their neighbours’ doors and encourage them to join the non-payment campaign.  There’s an onus on us to build this campaign in a way that’s inclusive and supports people getting involved who have no experience of doing anything like this before.

From the outset we have to be clear and honest with people – we’re not offering a service, we’re offering an opportunity to get involved.  At public meetings we have to be upfront.  If everyone comes along to the meeting, gives out about the tax, rails against the injustice and then goes home the charge will not be defeated.  If, on the other hand, people who come to the meetings become involved in building the campaign in their local areas then we can and will be successful.

We need to take the lessons from building previous campaigns – the anti-water charges campaign of the 90s, the anti-bin tax campaign of the noughties and other local campaigns that many of us have been involved in.  We need to learn from the successes and failures of those campaigns using them to put in place an inclusive democratic and successful campaign – built in every community and locality.  And we have as much to learn from the failures – from the ways in which the anti-bin tax campaign was less than successful, for example – as we have to learn from the successes

I’m going to outline what the campaign has done thus far in Dublin as a way of proposing how we might set about establishing a campaign on a national basis.  I’m outlining this not to be prescriptive or to say that this is how people should proceed in their own local areas but rather as an example from which local campaigns can take what works for them.

The campaign began from an initial meeting held early this year.  At this meeting an Interim Co-ordinating Committee was established.  Very early in the process it was agreed that while of necessity we had started off as a coalition of political groups and activists our ambition is to move as quickly as possible from being this coalition to being a genuine federation of local campaigns.  So the plan is that the Interim Co-ordinating Committee will stay in place until the campaign is established over the next couple of months.  The aim is to have campaign groups established in as many areas as possible by the end of the year and to hold a conference of the campaign early next year which will elect a proper co-ordinating committee based on delegates from local groups.

This is a formula that could possibly be emulated at national level.  I’m proposing that today we establish Interim National Co-ordinating Committee whose aim will be to get local campaign groups established across the country.  When these groups are established we should re-convene – in a much bigger venue - and elect a Co-ordinating Committee based on delegates from these local groups.

The approach that has been taken in Dublin to organising local campaigns is also one that might be of benefit to other areas.  In local areas many different political parties or organisations have members, contacts or activists.  We don’t want a situation whereby meetings are being called by members of one organisation to the exclusion of others.  Or we don’t want to end up with members of one political organisation running the campaign in one area and another organisation in another area. So to avoid this political organisations have shared information regarding areas in which they have members or activists. 

Across the city and county an agreed convenor has been appointed in each area.  This convenor has been given one role only.  The convenor’s role is to organise a private meeting of activists or members of all parties or organisations in her/his area.  From this private meeting a schedule of local public meetings will be organised.  And from these public meetings broad and inclusive campaign groups will be established in every area.

The process that has been adopted here is very important.  We will not build a successful campaign if political parties or organisations want ownership of the campaign or want to brand the campaign in particular areas.  Everywhere the campaign must be open and democratic and be seen to be.

There have unfortunately been a number of instances where this agreement, which has been accepted by all political organisations at meetings of the interim steering committee, hasn’t been adhered to but this is something that will be addressed

There’s an onus on the steering committee and an onus on the political organisations and parties who are part of the campaign to comply with agreed procedures.  Otherwise we will have a fractured campaign and no credibility.

This approach not alone allows us to share the necessary information to get groups established.  It also gives us a mechanism to ensure that groups are established in all areas.

As public meetings are called, it’s important they are not simply info meetings or ‘giving out’ sessions.  They should be similar to this meeting – part given over to political arguments against the tax, part to organisation of the campaign.

From the meetings we should immediately be looking for volunteers to start taking up a non-payment pledge.  This is a way of beginning to engage with people, of building support and also of identifying more potential organisers.  To do this effectively we need to get people out in every area knocking on doors, discussing the issue with people, encouraging their neighbours to sign the non-payment pledge and identifying more potential organisers.

It is crucial that we support and encourage people who have never done this type of thing before to get involved in knocking on doors and in actively building the campaign in their area.  We need to both challenge people to get involved and to support them to do so.

A Campaign newsletter should be produced which can be delivered at the same time.  As people are knocking on doors they can distribute a newsletter which carries the arguments against the tax and articles about how to build and defend non-payment.  We could produce a newsletter on either a local or national basis – it can be either the same newsletter everywhere or can be produced with a local slant on the front page in each area.  An example has been produced.  Please give us feedback on the balance of articles included in it.

As the campaign website is developed we can include on it templates of posters, leaflets etc. which can be downloaded by local groups and adapted for their own use.

Work on developing the website has already begun.  The domain names nowatertax.ie & nohouseholdtax.org have been purchased and in coming weeks the website will be developed and resources will be available for local groups to use.  It is intended that as well as the public site we will also establish private internal forums which we can use to share information regarding organisation.

For all of this to happen, volunteers are needed to write articles, to draft templates of posters, leaflets etc and to help with website design.  These things only happen if people do them.  So please do leave your name at the end of the meeting if you have layout, web design or article writing skills.

We should produce posters for display in people’s windows, car stickers, lapel stickers etc. and make them available on the website for local groups.  In local areas we should be aiming to get posters in windows and people displaying stickers on their cars and lapel stickers.  We should aim to create an atmosphere that everyone is opposed to the tax, and that if you pay it you’ll be the odd one out.  We need to set about building that atmosphere in the next couple of months so that it already exists when the bills arrive.  This is how we will counteract government attempts at intimidation, threatened fines etc..

Local campaign group should hold regular meetings open to all members of the community.  These meetings should be aimed at getting people involved as we build the campaign locally and give people the confidence and skills to build non-payment and defence of non-payers.

That’s the plan – that’s what we’ve put in place for Dublin and what we’re working towards.  If we can do something similar from here today we’ll be on the way to establishing an effective national campaign.  Today, as I’ve said, we should set up an interim steering group or co-ordinating group.  This group should be tasked with getting campaign groups established in every town and city across the country.  And we should aim to come back to a national conference early next year to establish a properly representative campaign with structures based on delegates from the local campaigns.

Having built non-payment across the country we will need to be ready to defend non-payers.  To do that we’ll need to set up membership of the campaign.  We’ll need to be in a position financially to produce the newsletters, leaflets, stickers etc that will be necessary.  We’ll also need to be in a position to defend people legally if necessary.

So, put simply our task from today is – let’s get the campaign established at local level, let’s energise and support people as non-payers and as organisers, let’s energise people to take democratic ownership of the campaign.  Let’s bring to reality the adage that Unity Is Strength."

More on the struggle against the Household Tax