An old smear - WSM is not secretly running the water charge campaign Victoria

I was rather surprised to see a talk I gave in Galway back in 2003 used for a smear campaign article written by a ‘Victoria White’ against the current mass resistance to the water charges. It’s worth dissecting this to understand how establishment power works in Ireland, in this case a connection between an ex-Government party and the media that would probably be invisible to almost all the readers of the smear in question.

The Irish state used the crisis to further it's program of shifting the tax burden from the wealthy to ordinary workers. Taxes that are proportional to wealth or income are being reduced while taxes and charges where a billionaire pays the same as there driver are being increased. Very often the Green Party plays the role of soft selling these attacks on ordinary workers as being about environmental protection. At the same time the Green Party in power was deploying state repression against community resistance to Shell, one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the world.

Back in 2003 the Green Party were playing this role in relation to the introduction of the bin tax. I was working as part of a broad grouping called the Grassroots Gathering and because some people were hesitant about supporting the campaign against this new tax because of Green Party support we though it would be useful to debate them. So I had a debate with Niall O Brolacháin and afterwards, as is my standard practise, I put the text online  and promptly forgot about it.

Today I saw someone Tweeting a link to a pretty crude but pretty typical establishment smear job of the massive popular resistance to the Water Charge. The water charge is another attempt to transfer the tax burden onto ordinary people very much like the bin tax. We saw the same sort of smears published during the bin tax campaign. The method is simple. The ‘journalist’ suggests that although the campaigners have grievances they are being manipulated behind the scenes by sinister elements. The standard ‘red scare’ tactic familiar to any student of the way the state and media deals with popular movements, old, hackneyed but often somewhat effective if people trust the media.

The article is not very interesting, the standard lazy methodology including the bit where the journalists hints that they too have radical opinions but that these people in the shadows are simply too much. So not so much an art form as a child filling in the lines with crayons.

It’s mostly attacking the Socialist Party / AAA which is curious as they are the least important of the three majors groups organising around the water charge. But the attack piece got full on weird towards the end were suddenly my own organisation, the Workers Solidarity Movement, got a mention. Now, because we have been going through a period of internal restructuring, we haven’t had a significant role at all in organising resistance. We’ve mostly been reporting on it via our Facebook page and our members have taking part in some local organising meetings and of course the demonstrations alongside as many as 150,000 other people. So it was strange to see us suggested as the secret force behind the campaign.

What was stranger was that what was being quoted was not any of our currents reports on the struggle but some piece I didn’t initially recognise. Specifically the article says “I particularly enjoyed, on this issue, the Workers’ Solidarity Movement’s thoughtful contribution to the bin-tax debate, which announced that global warming was a class issue, and cited as proof the fact that Ringsend and East Wall are hit by flooding, while “Howth and Dalkey are well above sea level, with a fine view to boot.””

Obviously this is meant to make us sound a bit silly, indeed the surrounding text in her article is intended to say revolutionaries don’t really care about the environment. This bit is presumably to show us up as clueless and doctrinaire.

But I didn’t recognise this quote so I googled the phrase to see where it came from.

Which brings me back to that speech from 2003 given to the Grassroots Gathering. As I suspected that sentence when put back into the context of what surrounded it no longer looked at all silly. Here is that section in full

“So what in general terms is the environmental relevancy of class.

1. The worst effects of pollution are often localised. If you are part of the ruling class you can simply move away from the poisoned river, the toxic landfill or the blighted landscape. If you are from the poorer sections of the working class you may well find that the only job you can get is in the chemical factory that is causing the problems in the first place and that the only home you can afford is next to the incinerator and on top of the old toxic dump that is leaching into the soil.

Rising sea levels due to global warming will kill millions of working class people in the years to come, in part because they can't afford to move, in part because taking the risk of working marginal land is something forced on the poor. . Locally every time there is significant flooding in Dublin it hits two working class communities the hardest, Ringsend and East Wall. The coastal areas where our local ruling class are located, Howth and Dalkey are well above sea level, with a fine view to boot. Needless to say it is also Ringsend that is threatened with an incinerator.”

This is the sort of bog standard observation that any serious environmental justice activist would make of how class and pollution intersect. You can observes similar situations in cities all over the world and indeed between which cities have flood defences and which do not.

The ‘writer’ has read the surrounding material so she was certainly aware that in being so selective in clipping the quote she was presenting it in a dishonest way. Of course that's not at all an unusual thing for an establishment defender to do, it happens all the time. But what puzzled me was the obscurity of the quote.

Why on earth was the writer digging up a quote from 11 years previous given to a meeting in Galway that perhaps 30 people attended?

After a minute I had a lightbulb moment when I realised that rather than being just a general pro-establishment voice perhaps she was a voice for a particular section of the establishment. In the article she was keen to portray herself as an environmentalist. Of course her hatchet job built around such a basic point about environmental justice suggested this was of the middle class sandals, yogurt and ‘oh no litter’ variety that tends to despise ordinary people. The sort who whines about cheap holidays in the sun from the terrace of their villa in Tuscany.

Sure enough Google quickly told me that she was in fact the wife of Green Party leader Eamonn Ryan. He is a familiar if spineless figure who first pretended to support the struggle against Shell in Mayo while looking for votes only to then become the Minister for the Environment who pushed through the project while people he had stood behind were brutalised and jailed. And a little more googling confirmed that Green Party candidate for Templeogue Suzanne McEneaney had described Victoria as a “Green Party member” as recently as April.

So that explained the strange quote mining, the product of a grudge against WSM that had been fermenting since at least 2003 and was probably exasperated significantly since by our exposures of what the Green Party got up to in power.

You’d imagine any decent media outlet publishing a blatant hatchet pieces on other political organisations would include some prominent mention of the writers own political affiliation at the start or finish of the piece least its readers mistook it for some sort of objective study.

Victoria makes a big deal of the unrepresentative nature of the political forces she claims are behind the water charges resistance. To do so she uses some rather oddly selected election figures, basically avoiding the last elections when politicians opposed to the tax actually got a very large vote indeed.

That aside of course as anarchists we don’t run in elections. So if you want to measure our relative popularity you ‘d have to use something else, perhaps something like Facebook likes.

A quick check of the number of people following various pages including the WSM showed
WSM - 39,516
Green Party - 2,536

That is a little embarrassing, Victoria’s representative GP has only 7% of the following of those terrible unrepresentative anarchists.

Maybe we should be the ones given a full page in a national paper to run crude smears. We won’t be holding out breath, such access is strictly reserved for those who speak for the establishment. Denis O’Brien for instance owns most of the media titles and broadcasters that are not state owned.

This used to work very well. Papers printed lies and those without access to the press or the power to challenge these lies could do little about it.

The problem establishment writers face these days is that those without power can answer back. It’s true that the government parties and their shills are given enormous access to mainstream media. That media has produced smear stories like Victoria’s one every time the Irish state has faced popular mobilisation. And part of that smear is always the claim that those outside the establishment circle are unrepresentative, tricking a poor innocent people and leading them astray.

In that context its interesting to look at Facebook likes to see to what extent people actually support the other parties that have been in government. The figures for the other three parties that have been in government in the south are

Fianna Fail -6594
Fine Gael - 8915
Labour Party - 10477

So the number of people willing to publicly associate themselves with one of the four establishment parties that have controlled this state since its inception is only 72% of those publicly associating themselves with an anarchist organisation. One whose ideas would be considered so marginal by mainstream media as to not even be considered, outside of course for use for quote mining for smear purposes.

Clearly there is a disconnect between the access the parties of government have to all mainstream media and their popularity on social media where people can pick and choose who to follow. Given the choice very few people find any government party worth listening to.

This smear campaign is unlikley to be effective for two reasons.
Firstly its too late, thousands of people are already involved in grassroots organising of resistance and most of them have no idea who or what WSM is. The idea we are secretly controlling them will be laughable.
But secondly social media allows us to speak back to the establishment media and to tell the story I tell here.

In that context this article backfires badly as all it does is server as a warning of just how deeply in the pockets of the establishment even semi independent appearing media like the Examiner are. If they publish such a misleading piece we can only imagine the crap we will soon be getting from the Independent Media group and RTE.

WORDS Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )




 The Examiner published a

 The Examiner published a different reply I wrote for WSM on this piece - see OPINION: Water protests are an organic expression of the power of people



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