Six years on from the Dublin bin tax struggle

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This September will be six years on from the start of the intense period of the bin tax struggle in Dublin, a struggle that was to see 25+ people jailed as the state tried to crush the campaign.  I've just uploaded the news articles I wrote at the time on the struggle to my archive on this site, this blog summarises these and links to each of the news posts as it is summarised.  I also explain the internal context of what is argued to a greater level then could be done at that time.

These articles run from September 16 2001, that article is possibly one of the first online news pieces I wrote about struggles in  Ireland. I think it even predates indymedia Ireland as I mention the 'Global Summit on Privatisation in Dublin on the 10th October' as a forthcoming event and I recall that this was around the point at which indymedia.ie was actually launched.  On checking I see the first article on the old WSM 'news from members' page was from almost a year earlier July 5th 2000 - The Aldi strike: Solidarity is Strength, Scabs are Scum by Aileen, another of our bloggers here.

There are three articles from the two years before September 2003, all reporting on aspects of the building up of the campaign, a Dublin organising conference, a local meeting in the Liberties where I was then living and a picket of the corporation meeting that set the charges in 2002.  All three provide a useful reminder that the struggle of September & October 2003 did not spring out of the ground but was the result of a few years organising.

September 10 2003 was when things kicked of when Fingal council stopped collecting the bins of non payers and in response the campaign blocked trucks in Fingal with the demand that either they would collect all bins or no bins.  Dublin had been divided into four council regions and within the campaign there was a sharp difference between those who like WSM argued that non-collection anywhere should be replied to with blockades of trucks everywhere and others, chiefly the SWP who wanted to wait until non-collection arrived in a particular area before blockading.  Unfortunately this debate was never resolved into collective action with the result that the councils were able to fight and win in one area before moving on to the next without triggering the needed city wide response.  In these news reports I could only hint at this debate, for instance in this first report writing "We believe that council strategy is to try and target areas where the campaign is weak but continue to collect all bins where the campaign is strong. We should not accept this, non-collection in ANY city area should be met by blockades in EVERY city area."

By September 2003 I had moved to Cabra on the north side of the city where a very solid local campaign had already been built, one with excellent connections with the bin workers.  So solid in fact that in many areas of Cabra, including my estate, large numbers are still not paying 6 years later and our bins are still being collected.  The day after non collection started in Fingal I took part in the first blockades in Cabra and reported on these.  I didn't manage to report on everything I took part in over the next weeks but the next report from the following week was of the follow up blockades that aimed to hold two trucks all day in solidarity with the people from Fingal up in the High Court that morning.

The next report is from when the first jailing had happened and a march had been organised by the campaign to Mountjoy.  Many of us in the WSM had been also involved in Reclaim the Streets and other off shoots of the 'anti-capitalist movement' and we were keen to encourage others involved to get involved in the bin tax struggle.  So we took the initiative of getting a Reclaim the Streets that was happening before the protest march to meet up with the march before it headed to the Joy.  Re-reading that report from an event I don't really now remember is interesting, there are lots of mentions of the tensions within the campaign and a hint of some between some of the RTSers and other people in campaign on the day.

These sort of tensions were what caused the disintegration of the campaign under the intense pressure of multiple jailings.  Collective strategies that were agreed at meetings would be changed outside of them and in any case the losing side of a debate (the SWP in particular) would fail to respect decisions reached.  This quickly made the co-ordination meetings pointless and alongside this local groups became separated from each other along party political lines.  In the face of the jailings only a profound sense of respect and trust between all those in struggle could have carried things through, far from that emerging in the course of the struggle the opposite took place.

Part of the problem was that everyone knew a local election would probably take place soon and so the parties were jockying to get their candidate into the best position to be the 'bin tax candidate' in their area.  Watching this develop provided a strong illustration of this down side of electoralism.

Again my reports don't directly discuss these problems but its not that hard to see them between the lines.  The report on the Dail protest notes the comparatively poor turnout and the fact that we were not getting clear information from the Fingal campaign (which was Socialist Party controlled). This report mentions the plan to target the commercial refuse collection, my next column reports on the local success of this but notes at the end that "the isolated nature of this blockade means that the council will by now have been able to get a truck from the morning shift or another depot to do this run."

The next report of the depot blockade the following week again notes the lack of co-ordination.  Another report later that same day covers the protest in response to another ten people being jailed, a few days later a second march on Mountjoy, this time of 3,000 people, took place.  A lot of work had gone into trying to get action from the unions and this demonstration represented the culmination of this work but also the limits, Jack O'Connor got quite a hostile response from the crowd as it was clear that no effective action would be forthcoming.

My last report is from 5 weeks after the first and in hindsight was the last of the militant actions.  The potential of escalation is clear from the report, a car had ran over a campaign member engaged in a blockade and this resulted in a lot of the bin workers refusing to drive the trucks and several being laid off.  The rank & file workers were willing to take action at that point but union officials were sent out to talk them down despite the unions having policy in support of the campaign.

Around this point in time the disintegration of the campaign into clumps of local groups that were no longer effectively communicating became complete.  Many continued to fight on in their own way, most often through organising the throwing of non-payers rubbish in the trucks by campaign activists on collection days.  In the stronger areas this delayed the widespread introduction of non-collection, in some areas it has still not been completely introduced.  But across most of the city organised resistance collapsed within weeks and the council seemed prepared to accept a situation of a limited number of areas holding out in the longer term.

You'll find a complete archive of WSM material written during this important struggle at http://struggle.ws/wsm/bins.html  My article are a very minor part of this overall record as my involvement was quite marginal.  Those articles explain the issues around the struggle in some depth.  One more contribution from me that may be of interest is Class, Ecology and the bin tax the text of a talk I prepared for a debate with Niall O Brolacháin of the Green Party at the 6th Grassroots Gathering in Galway.

Within the WSM we found the period of disintegration difficult.  On the one hand we recognised that the opportunity for a victory had receded with the collapse of the campaign, on the other we were reluctant to make any sort of public statement to this effect in the context where some local groups were choosing to fight on.  After a lot of debate we actually created a group to draft a statement but although a lot of work was done on this it never saw the light of day.  It was only two years later in the Autumn of 2005 that something along these lines appeared when Red & Black Revolution 10 published an interview with WSM member Dermot Sreenan who had been centrally involved in the Dublin campaign.

As well as the articles mentioned here there were a few already in my archive on the bin tax that I haven't mentioned in this blog including two cover stories for issues of Workers Solidarity published during this period.

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