Water Charges: We've Got Them Surrounded. Imagine Winning. What Comes Next?

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We can win this battle but we would be fools to settle for that. As someone said at the January 31st demonstration, 'we have them where we've wanted them for years'. Our opportunity is huge, with a great multitude politically awakened and eager to change society. So the question is presented: will we waste this opportunity to make a better world or will we seize it? What do we do once we win, and how should that affect what we do now?

This raises lots of other broad questions we should all ask ourselves:

  1. Is voting in a new government enough?
  2. Should we keep the system the same, or try something new?
  3. How do we achieve that better world?
  4. What would a better system look like?

1) Is voting in a new government enough?
The general election is drawing closer. Will this bring the change we've been looking for? Should campaigning for the elections become our priority? We say no. Real change only comes from grassroots activity – from the bottom up - and grassroots activity is in direct competition for resources (time, money, effort) with electoral campaigning.

We need to move past the idea that we can just elect some leader to fix society for us, otherwise we will be stuck in this rut forever. The seeds of change are before us: 'ordinary' people coming together in solidarity in community groups and unions to fight injustice. The movement against the water charges has shown that this is where our true power lies.

2) Should we keep the system the same, or try something new?
We can accept the current system of state capitalism and try to make it work for us, or we can re-organise society into something new and better. We don't think the former is possible. Trying to solve society's problems while keeping the social system the same (i.e. maintaining capitalism and the state) is akin to trying to extinguish a fire by hosing the flames and not the fuel.

This system was made by the elite for the elite, not so that the vast majority would be free or content. It evolved over a few hundred years to function in a certain way, and can't be reined in to do something completely different all of a sudden (just like a heart evolved over millions of years and can't suddenly be made to function as a kidney).

Global inequality is getting worse, not better, the 1% are due to own 50% of the wealth by 2016 as over a billion people don't even have clean drinking water, we are catapulting toward an ecological disaster which the powerful profit from and have little incentive to reverse, etc, etc. This can't be solved by electing 'better politicians' to draft the right legislation, or other band-aid solutions. To quote socialist Albert Einstein 'you cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew'.

3) How do we achieve that better world?
So if this system is fundamentally inadequate to our aim of a better life for all, what would a better society be like? A start is to identify underlying problems today The single greatest cause of strife in human society is hierarchy, i.e. relationships of power. Politicians rule over us, queer people are marginalised, women are suppressed, those with lots of property have far larger decision making power, the great majority of us have to rent ourselves out to bosses in order to survive, and so on. One group of people with power over another.

So to be free we need to replace these relationships of power with relationships of equality and solidarity as much as possible. Instead of a phony parliament we should have participatory democracy with mandated (we tell them what to do) and recallable (fired if they don't do it) delegates, and federations for larger scale co-ordination. Real democracy is a way of life, not a side dish, so we need to organise society along those lines.

Presently production is controlled by a minority of property owners who plan economic activity according to what is profitable and not what satisfies our needs and desires. Consumption happens in the same way, and if you don't have enough money you will starve, lose your home, or die of disease. Instead workplaces should be owned and run by the people who work there. Production and consumption should be organised according to the principle: from each according to their ability and talent, to each according to their need and desire. There are more than enough resources and able hands for us all to live good lives. The problem is the elite class who hoard those resources, shape society in their image, and treat us as mere units of labour.

While sexism, racism, etc, are caused in large part by the state and capitalism they also have an independent existence. We each have to challenge these prejudices and oppressions in our daily lives.

A society organised along these lines is called libertarian socialism. 'Libertarian' is basically the opposite of 'authoritarian'. Socialism is meant to be for freedom, not despite it.

4) What would a better system look like?
So how do we make this new and better society a reality? What does that mean for us right now fighting the water charges? Well let's start with what we shouldn't do. We shouldn't wait for 'someone else'. We shouldn't trust politicians to change the world, we shouldn't invest our hopes in election results. We shouldn't merely demand more honest people in positions of power, whether judges, Garda commissioners or officers, union leaders, bankers, or corporate executives. We shouldn't rely on charities to solve social problems or tend to the needy.

We need to think bigger. But luckily we're already doing the right thing. The movement against the water charges is one of massive direct action (meter protests, boycott, meter removals, and more), mass protest, and community organisation. This can make effective and sustainable change. When we meet each other face to face and organise democratically our power is huge, and we need to build upon this rather than indulge another disempowering electoral circus.

More community groups linking up more issues, with more people becoming actively involved, more people joining unions and becoming active in them so they can be the engines for change they're supposed to be, more people active in groups like the Dublin Solidarity Network, Abortion Rights Campaign, and Anti-Deportation Ireland, this is the key. Put simply, the kind of stuff which is already happening but more widespread and radically oriented. Individually we are weak, collectively we are strong.

In this campaign against the water charges, it would be a big mistake to focus our efforts on the elections and to believe that this will bring us the change we want. 'This time it's different' has been said enough times for us to know it's really the same. By developing our grassroots democratic power we can build a new society within the shell of the old.

If that vision appeals to you and you want to organise with us let us know by registering at this link: http://www.wsm.ie/user/register

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