On the Need to Wield the Political Crowbar

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I heard a Fianna Fail TD saying on the radio that the decision to tie the household charge and the property tax to the funding of local councils was an attack on local democracy. As central funding through general taxation has been removed a failure to collect adequate amounts of the property tax means that funding of local services will be smaller.

Allowing local authorities to increase that charge puts the negative political feedback, particularly in areas where compliance is less, like Donegal, on to the local councils and protects the central government. It was an odd sensation, shouting at the radio (not unusual) in agreement with someone in Fianna Fail (which very much is).

However, I would add that with a smaller budget because of the problems of collecting the Household Charge and the property tax – and the structure of the property tax is almost exactly the same as the household charge and its associated problems, with good reason – means that it would require additional cuts to services.

This will follow the now established pattern of replacing publicly funded publicly owned services with private operations. Again, as has been well established, the private operation will be less efficient, more costly to the public purse in the medium term and the tendering process will be corrupt or suspect, with small operators losing out to larger conglomerates leading to a monopoly situation for the provision of these services after an initial flurry of ‘competition’. It’s also been well established that Public Private Projects have been seen for over a decade as a growth opportunity for financial institutions in the IFSC, and the present government has recently provided them with a very specific kitty just for this.

The campaign against the household charge, and the concerns about how to extend it to a campaign against the property tax plays right into the hands of those who want to extend the privatisation of public services. As commented by WorldbyStorm on Cedar Lounge Revolution:

“CAHWT seems to have faded somewhat into the background, in part from the sheer pressure of other events that have crowded out the political agenda”.

Well, who saw that coming?

This does not mean that the Household Charge or the Property tax as proposed are just or workable – far from it. But it explains why they are being structured in the way that they are.

The campaign should be based on the idea that the provision of public services by local councils be funded through general taxation, but funding should be given, along with the power to budget and spend it, to the local authorities themselves  – general taxation if it is to increase should fall on those who have greater share of the means to generate wealth – not income (although the abilities to adequately tax those with a very high income would be a start). The ability to generate wealth in this way is not a natural right. It is extended by society as a whole. Not paying tax or those who have the greatest power to generate wealth, including corporations, not being charged tax adequately is a breaking of the social contract. By avoiding or ensuring that they are not adequately taxed they may claim not to believe in the existence of such a social contract and thus negate the ability to ensure such a contract is enforced. But whether they acknowledge the existence of such a contract or not is irrelevant because it is only the existence of it that enables them to accumulate that wealth in the first place. Ultimately, it is up to us to make sure that it is enforced. How can we do that at same time as saying specifically targeted taxes for them but not for us?

This is a class issue and the challenge to it should raise awareness of the class dynamics not only of the household charge/property tax but how it’s behind the whole agenda of this and all previous Irish governments – but this one in particular. Now, using the helpful camouflage of the troika they are systematically dismantling the provision of those, modest by European standards but really existing, public services.   The nakedness of the class aggression however, seems to have bypassed the consciousness of those who have campaigned against the Household Charge and who by calling for non-compliance are placing the burden of the campaign on to those being charged.

In time it will be transformed into a battle between ordinary householders dealing with massive arrears and a government instigated lengthy legal process, with all the resources of the state in terms of propaganda, the legal system and the police force at its disposal.

Where will be the campaign against the stripping of public assets, the failure to tax wealth adequately, the attack on workers by maintaining high unemployment and putting pressure on those in the public sector in order to reduce wages throughout the economy and the boosterism to the financial sector to enjoy future speculative opportunities be then?

Who will pay for the problems that ordinary householder will face when they are being taxed and undermined financially every which way already? When those faced with these problems go to campaigners asking what they should do, will the campaigners suggest that they form a mass protest? Perhaps they might show them some old video footage of the Poll Tax Riots in UK as part of a general education program given in the upstairs function room of a pub in Balbriggan. Will they need to say we should be more like Greek workers? Or Spanish indignados?

It may seem odd that I started this rant with a comment from someone in Fianna Fail talking on RTE’s Drivetime, sponsored by a Danish bank. Is it possible that Fianna Fail is more radical than the radical left in Ireland? Of course not. Fianna Fail are political opportunists. They are looking to regain that working class support that Sinn Fein have been so capable of attracting, and as they are not in government they have chosen to use the truth as a political crowbar.

Maybe it’s just me, and I could be wrong, but I wish that the left in Ireland could grab that crowbar and begin to lamp the right with it for a change.

 

 

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4 Responses

  1. CMK

    December 21, 2012 10:04 pm

    This is possibly the most curious piece I’ve read on the ILR. Speculatively, I would appear to be of a part with the gathering Left-ish backlash against the CAHWT which, having forced an issue and the possibility of confrontation with the State over austerity with no certainty of where things might go, is now viewed as a campaign that ‘plays right into the hands of those who want to extend the privatisation of public services’. I actually can’t believe that argument is being made in good faith on the ILR (correct me if I’m wrong). It can only be motivated by a loathing the political forces active in the CAHWT, a loathing shared by most of the trade union movement, and a loathing which is blinding many on the Left, who are obviously not active in CAHWT, towards the real achievements of that campaign and the potential of the coming clash over the property tax to deflect Trioka mandated austerity policies.

    I also can’t believe that the following sentence ‘The nakedness of the class aggression however, seems to have bypassed the consciousness of those who have campaigned against the Household Charge and who by calling for non-compliance are placing the burden of the campaign on to those being charged.’ is motivated by any kind of a sympathetic assessment of the CAHWT. Are you seriously suggesting that those active in the CAHWT are unaware of the class agenda behind the household tax and the property tax? I think nearly everyone who has taken part in the campaign is well aware of the risks that are associated with advocating boycott and the possible legal implications attendant on non-payment. No-one is being duped and the campaign is being clear with people that there are serious implications arising from non-payment, and that applies equally to the incoming property tax. And yet, there are thousands of activists and ten of thousands of supporters and hundreds of thousands of those who’ve heeded the campaign’s message of non-payment. They all can’t be wrong or stupid or misled.

    But, look, it’s clear to me that a substantial strand of the Left wishes that the CAHWT would fall on it’s ass and end up fizzling out in an inclusive legal morass out of public view, like with the bin tax campaign. The motivation for that, it seems to me, is clearly a distaste for the groups working on CAHWT and a view that these groups have nothing to offer Irish working people – regardless of their electoral representation. Fair enough, as far as it goes. But those making those arguments should be clear as to how a campaign against austerity should be organised and sustained. I’ve seen precious little attempts made to do so. Plenty of critique of austerity and the forces driving it, their class interests, and the long terms goals of the financial industry; but very little of what to do to fight this. In the absence of attempts to organise against austerity I’m going to be uncharitable, and possibly tendentious myself, and suggest that that cohort of the Left are actually cool with austerity.

    Well, the unions, the only other candidate for resisting austerity (Occupy was never going to amount to much, sorry), will not step into the breach and will, in fact, continue to facilitate austerity, which they are doing by supporting the imposition of the property tax. As far as resisting austerity in any organised fashion it’s the CAHWT, or its successor campaigns, or bust. There is no alternative. Again, I return to what I see clearly developing: namely, a desire among many Left critics of austerity for CAHWT to fail, and fail badly, preferably. A concomitant of this will be that resistance to austerity is transformed into electoral support for Sinn Féin which will mean, in real terms, that it will go nowhere. The end result will be the consolidation of the long term restructuring of the Irish economy and society along the lines of extreme neoliberalism.

    I realise this article is being deliberately provocative and that I’ve taken the bait in my response and I’m allowing for the possibility that I have grossly misinterpreted it. But it’s still a curious piece.

  2. Cath

    December 24, 2012 1:29 pm

    There should be a Full Week every year that the Ordinary Public have complete access to every Local Authority. By-pass completely all of these political clubs.
    Access to: how much is given to these outside contractors in that year, and if there have been any complaints about them.
    The staff at Local Authorities are no more than a bought ‘pool of voters’.

  3. William Wall

    December 29, 2012 1:03 pm

    ‘Again, as has been well established, the private operation will be less efficient..’ In the good old days, one Council bin lorry covered our road every Monday morning. It was a simple and efficient service. When recycling came in they alternated the rubbish days and recycle days. Now three private companies cover the road. So, from an environmental point of view, we now use three times as much diesel to do the same job. Now however we have a ‘choice’ of who collects our rubbish. Admittedly, all the rubbish still goes to the Council but three different companies take it there. I don’t know if there’s price ‘competition'; because i couldn’t be arsed finding out, but I suspect it’s peanuts and is probably bound up in gobbledegook about price-plans and offers. In addition, the lorries come on different days and when they cover the road – a busy one at rush-hour – the traffic backs up behind – on three different days. This is, to my mind, exactly what they mean by capitalism being more efficient. When capitalism takes over a public service it’s three times as costly, takes less care of the environment, irritates everybody and it takes more of them to do the job. This is excluding all the replication such as letters to customers, spray-painting logos etc.

  4. Donagh

    January 2, 2013 5:21 pm

    Hi CMK, thanks for the comment, and apologies about the delay in responding. I’d love to claim that the original post was an attempt to be deliberately provocative or an ironic reversal of my real opinion. However, the reality is that it was a simplistic reaction to some comments made elsewhere on strategies that CAHWT should adopt in the face of the impending property tax. I personally do not want to be associated with any ‘Left-ish backlash against the CAHWT which seems to come from a loathing of ‘the political forces active in the CAHWT’, and unfortunately I wasn’t aware that there was one.

    The attitude towards those political forces is typical of the sectarian nature of leftwing politics in Ireland, but Irish Left Review was created with the idea of trying to get beyond exactly that. If my post was interpreted as being typical of that sectarianism then it was a spectacular own goal on my part. Whatever about ILR (whatever it is) as the author of the post I can say unequivocally that it was not motivated by any antagonism towards those forces…..that I am conscious of.

    There is a reason, however, why I rarely comment on political activism, or strategies for the left. This is simply because I am not a political activist in the real sense, am not a member of groups who are involved, and do not knock on doors, attend meetings, or write campaign literature etc. As a result I do not know the nuts and bolts of what is required to try and generate political support for a campaign against austerity. All I can do is try to think critically, argue and write and as the administrator of this site provide a platform for others to do so as well. Perhaps, in order to speak I should be more directly involved? However, you’re absolutely right on a number of criticisms, most pressingly the argument that CAHWT are playing ‘right into the hands of those who want to extend the privatisation of public services’.

    It is quite obvious that the advantage that the government has is its ability to pick its battles, and the introduction of the household charge was arranged to ensure that resistance through non-payment would hit people locally with the provision of local services and amenities. This is where leftwing support is strongest and where parties and groups have spent years working within communities to help working people fight to protect what should be their democratic right. The strength of the state to impose these charges through the legal system does not mean that they should not be resisted. In addition, the various campaigns against the incursion of PPPs for public services, social housing and things like bin collection are the building blocks upon which CAHWT is built. So, CAHWT is itself an extension of the campaign against privatisation and is not part of aiding and abetting the government’s plans to increase them. My problem was that with so much focused on the imposition of one or two of a number of new taxes being imposed unfairly, attempts to campaign and inform people about the wider forces at play are being missed. Similarly with the sinking of resources into a campaign which is needed to fight these legal battles I was wondering if there would be enough left to move it on, once there is some success to that much needed, and now long overdue wider battle. Again, a foolish question perhaps, given that there is a dearth of any other campaigns which have any chance of actually putting up any resistance to what is going on.

    There is no doubt, too, that those involved in these campaigns are critically aware of the class agenda – about how tax increases for working people on low and middle incomes are being used to subsidize the reduction of the tax burden on those who have access to considerable wealth and income – and have time and again emphasized this at meetings and in campaign literature.

    Ultimately, I was wondering aloud if a scrapping of the household charge/property tax would lead to wider victories, given that unpopular property taxes have been scrapped in the past by right-wing parties without any discernible political change occurring in the support for leftwing policies, or in an understanding of how the forces controlling our quality of life are not structured in our interests.

    You know only too well, as do I that ‘austerity’ is the means by which the financial sector is ensuring that whatever taxes are imposed fall mainly on ordinary working people. The household charge and the property tax are the means to avoid tax on wealth, and it is this wealth that the financial services sector needs to continue to fund its investment in credit and the creation of debt.

    http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/investment-in-property-back-on-the-cards-for-this-year-3340243.html

    It would be so much better to tax this surplus and to plough it into real investment. The priorities of the financial sector, and the government that serves it will not allow it.

    However, finally, whether I was right or wrong to say what I did, the post was not part of ‘backlash’ against CAHWT and it certainly wasn’t an attempt to undermine the campaign. That said, there should be space to ask questions about it’s approach which has remained the same from the beginning without being tarred as being part of a suspect ‘left-ish’ faction.

    I see the post as a poorly articulated reflection of my own priorities, which is to look at the structural reasons for why we are being forced to suffer in this way and to do so within the context of how the economy is structured as a whole. For me it is not only about bringing about a change to the tax system, which requires fundamental restructuring but questioning how the whole economy is run and coming up with alternatives.

    Despite what you say, I haven’t seen too much of this – in the forthcoming Irish Left Review journal, the entire focus is on Irish financial services. I have a long piece on corporation tax, not to argue that this should be raised so that others do not have to pay. Rather to try and illustrate how the priorities of a very small sector have historically and are currently determining policy in their interests and to the detriment of the wider economy.

    I would hope that future issues will be able to focus on how we can challenge and ultimately change the structure of the Irish economy and Irish society in the interests of working people.