Peadar Kirby has written a piece expanding on his criticisms of the Right2Water campaign, locating them within a wider critique of what he calls Ireland’s politics of anti-austerity. He is pessimistic about the possibilities of the current mass mobilisation against austerity in Ireland, and contrasts the situation in Ireland with the situation in Spain, where as he sees it Podemos is on the verge of taking power ‘not through a politics of opposition but through a serious politics of proposing an alternative that is credible to large sectors of the citizenry’.
In this post I wish to highlight some further similarities and differences between the cases of Ireland and Spain, and in doing so, question some of Kirby’s criticisms.
Kirby is critical of the ‘politics of opposition’ rather than a ‘politics of proposal’ in the Irish case. He thinks the anti-water charges campaign ought to articulate fully how the right to water ought to be guaranteed, since, as he sees it, the likely consequence of the campaign should it prove successful will be to winnow away further at this right. This criticism relies on a strict interpretation of the right to water as codified by the UN. I agree with Kirby and others that when people are campaigning against water charges, they are not campaigning for a fully articulated and costed solution for the provision of water in keeping with UN accords. They are doing so because they feel they and others will be impoverished by water charges. But they are also doing so because they recognise that the imposition of water charges is regressive and hence unjust, and the demand for water to be paid for out of progressive tax measures, and the demand against privatisation, which are both very common in the campaign, are not calls for stripping away the capacity of the State to provide public services. On the contrary.
It is true: there are no detailed concrete proposals to this end. Kirby thinks this is a big problem. I don’t. And here is where I begin to part company with his analysis. In drawing attention to the rise of Podemos in Spain, Kirby omits the cycles of mobilisations that preceded the rise of that organisation. These mobilisations stretch back more than a decade now: from the mobilisation against the Iraq war to the V de Vivienda campaign for a right to housing to the Juventud Sin Futuro campaign, and, crucially, the 15M movement that called into question the very legitimacy of Spain’s political system, its right to call itself a democracy. And on from the 15M to the various Mareas?—?in defence of public healthcare, public education, emigrant rights, abortion rights, as well as the resounding achievements of thePlataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca in mobilising public opinion against evictions.