jump to navigation

A deeply unfair analysis of the anti-bin tax campaign April 30, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Check out the Irish Times today for what has to one of the most unfair analyses I’ve read in a while. Which is saying something. In the course of taking a few pot-shots at PBP-AAA and ‘street politics’ (tremble you citizens at their collective six TDs for instilling bourgeois fear is the name of the game here) Colm Keena offers this:

One of the biggest people power movements in recent times was the campaign against paying for having rubbish collected. For many in the PBP-AAA camp, that campaign against bin charges was the launchpad for their public careers, and a model for the way forward. Yet there are obvious problems with viewing the anti-bin tax campaign as a success. First, and most obviously, bin charges were introduced. That decision wasn’t taken by Boyd Barrett or Smith and their PBP-AAA colleagues, but the first step surely in measuring the success or otherwise of a campaign of resistance is to ask if it achieved its stated objective.


But the anti-bin tax campaign was worse than just a failure. What had been a service delivered by local councils eventually became a service delivered by private waste disposal businesses, in competition with each other, some of them owned by way of offshore corporate structures. The bin charges campaign contributed to the local councils’ enthusiasm for exiting the waster collection business.


Work that had been done by men who had permanent, reasonably well-paid jobs, public service pensions and good employment conditions became the work of people whose pay and conditions are markedly different, and for the worse.


Permanent jobs, with pensions; the kind of jobs a working class man could get and hold for his entire life, and use to support a family, have being replaced by lower-paid, increasingly casualised work, where there is little by way of contract between employee and employer other than a direct sale of labour, for the lowest price the market will bear.

Of course:

Again that’s not the fault of the PBP-AAA but it is a wonder that the members of the movement don’t occasionally pause and fret over how the waste charges issue has played out. Did the campaign against paying the charge feed into, or facilitate, the decision to privatise the service? Did what was nominally a campaign on behalf of the working class, have the net effect that rubbish that was formerly collected by men with good working conditions, is now collected by men with enormously reduced working conditions? Is there not something to be learned from this?

Hold on. The reduced conditions weren’t a function of protests. The push to privatisation wasn’t a result of councils seeing protestors and saying ‘hey! We’re out of here’. Anything but. It was precisely this outcome that protestors were protesting against. And to pretend otherwise is to play it fast and loose with the truth. One doesn’t have to be partisan in any sense to PBP-AAA or agree with their approaches to feel this is both inaccurate and unfair.

And of course Keena doesn’t bother to do anything other than treat them as an undifferentiated whole. The anti-bin tax campaigns were the result of many different groups coming together including the SP etc long long before PBP-AAA was a glint in anyone’s eye. But this isn’t really about anti-bin tax campaigns or who participated, or the tactics or strategies of same but about ultimately criticising citizens of this state for their temerity in electing who they damn well want to the Oireachtas.

The issue here is not the extent or otherwise to which the water charges debacle is the product of the so-called hard left, as against the other actors involved. Rather the water issue is illuminating because it fits with an international trend.

Risibly he continues:

From bank bailouts, to stagnating wages, to failed states on Europe’s borders, the Western world’s economic system is under serious pressures, the causes of which are numerous and the subject of endless debate. One thing is clear however; the solutions are neither easy nor obvious.

Now apply that to the policy of hiving off provision of waste services in the cities. The solution was clear. Retain them in situ as effectively state services. Yet FF and PD thought otherwise (no doubt agreed with by FG). This had literally nothing to do with those who opposed privatisation. Yet for Keena:

The difficulty the system is having in coming up with solutions is surely the explanation for the political “success” of Donald Trump, the Brexit campaign, the Front Nationale, the right-wing Freedom Party in Austria, and, closer to home, the independents, the PBP-AAA, and even Sinn Féin, with its scandalously positive attitude towards the illegal and violent activities of its recent past.

No. Political decisions were taken that shifted in a rightward direction. They were implemented in the teeth of protest. They became the status quo. That’s it pretty much. There’s no broader lesson to be learned unless he believes that activism against such decisions is in and of itself illegitimate. And he might reflect on the thought that the corollary of what he argues is that if these privatisations hadn’t occurred then there wouldn’t be PBP-AAA, SF etc TDs in the Dáil today. Is that what he’s seriously saying?

Or, as the logic of his argument would appear to suggest, that citizens should vote for parties who – in relation to bin taxes – held policies he seems on the one hand to say were wrong and worth protesting about, but… er… not by those who protested against them? Which means FF, FG, et al who supported such taxes must be voted for whatever their policies?

He concludes:

It is easy to foresee a future in the West where there will be widely differing degrees of success among nations in dealing with the pressures that exist. The levels of dysfunction that may or may develop within any particular country or community (with inequality being one measure of dysfunction), will be dictated by the quality of the decisions made when addressing the problems that have to be confronted.
From Ireland’s point of view, the key player is the Oireachtas. Electing people to the Oireachtas so they can protest, rather than govern, is another protest we’ll all pay dearly for.

I guess I could argue that Keena seems unable to understand that this is what it is like in polities dominated by the right – where the alternatives offered to people ultimately devolve to different flavours of that right. Policies made by that right are implemented in whole or part because they can be because there’s sufficient support for the parties that champion them. To blame those who oppose them however effectively or otherwise is to wilfully misunderstand and misinterpret the power dynamics at work.


BTW, Labour has come out with this line in the past too. Expedient but again incorrect.


1. EWI - April 30, 2016

Keena neither knows not cares about the facts here – this is all about defending Irish Water, which is viewed with glee by PD-types as privatising yet more of the state (and people don’t have an appreciation of the scale of assets that have been taken from the likes of Dublin and handed over).

Establishing a captive fee-paying base is the first step. Resisting that was used as an excuse by Labour and the rest, but it’s disingenuous to claim that privatisation wasn’t the goal, given the track record. No amount of crocodile tears over public jobs – about which the likes of Keena really don’t give a shit, I think – can change that.


WorldbyStorm - April 30, 2016

Exactly. He knows well that FF and PD, the only entities in a position to drive this through were tied into a neoliberal economic approach where this wasn’t a glitch but a feature. But he won’t come out and admit that because that would make his thesis meaningless.


2. EWI - April 30, 2016

The waste issue in Dublin is also tied up with the damned incinerator – sorry, ‘waste to energy plant’ – which has to be fed a certain amount of rubbish or else the citizens of Dublin will end up having to pay for it to lie idle. So, rubbish has to be generated or else imported – so much for recycling or reducing waste, which are more sustainable goals. The efforts by a certain local authority to load the deck in favour of Greyhound are tied up with the incinerator, too.

Liked by 1 person

3. fergal - April 30, 2016

The Bintifada! Can anybody here outline a kind of timeline of events? Why was the service privatised? Was it a directive from Brussels? Was it a slashing of capital grants by central government to local authorities? It’s obvious that Kenna is just doing a hatchet job on the right to protest and is no more interested in the ‘working man’ than I am in the price of bacon in outer Mongolia. What has Kenna ever do to protect pensionable jobs for working people…
Without wanting to he points to something very important when he says – From Ireland’s point of view, the key player is the Oireachtas- the last administration cut local government to the bone- exit the UDCs, corpos of old. Is it any wonder that some town centres look like ghost towns, the local councillor has become part of a much bigger set up and at the micro level things get forgotten about. Councils don’t build houses anymore, councils don’t do bins anymore, and they don’t do water anymore. So what? as power become more and more concentrated in ever smaller circles those collecting the bins, providing water and building houses will be accountable to no one. At least councillors of the old set up had to worry about elections and getting votes- the new arrangement has no such check on its power.
Bring back UDCs etc, give them real power, revenue raising amongst others


WorldbyStorm - April 30, 2016

That’s something I’d agree with you completely. The key player is indeed the Oireachtas (it’s not for nothing the further left rightly want to be there). And your point about the evisceration of council power is spot on.


CMK - April 30, 2016

Keena should get a job with the ‘Sunday Sport’ where, I think, he would be more at home. Or, ‘Waterford Whispers’.

I’m not going to say anything about his article because it is such obvious s***e that there is little more to add to the fine job above.

On waste services: two of the, many, negative consequences of the privatised service are the trend to switch from weekly collection to fortnightly, with no reduction in fees; and, collections at all hours of the day and night.

Recently a bin truck collected in our estate at ten past midnight and took twenty minutes to do all the collections. Then you have collections, regularly, at 5am in the morning, etc, etc.

Liked by 1 person

EWI - May 1, 2016

The councils have been reduced to little more than the local area offices of the national government and civil service. Take Dublin City Council – housing standards overriden by Minister Kelly. Land bank for social housing also forced by Kelly to be sold. Who has also effectively prohibited them from borrowing to build new social housing (and he’s forcing them to sell off existing social housing into the private sphere). City Chief Executive Owen Keegan is meanwhile openly committed to getting rid of direct labour, the ambulance service and the libraries.

I was initially opposed to an elected mayor, but it seems the only way to undo approaching a hundred years of post-independence stripping of the old Dublin Corporation’s ability to better the lives of Dubliners, being answerable to Dubliners. National political concerns are now driving decisions for Dublin, and are being made by Ministers and civil servants, not the local representatitives – who have the retained function of planning (essential for all those solicitors and auctioneer councillors down the country!) but nothing else.


DublinDilettante - May 1, 2016

DCC see themselves primarily as facilitators for private capital; that is a role they have actively sought and carved out for themselves over the past thirty years, both for ideological reasons (a function of their officers’ backgrounds) and because they realised the need to diversify when they saw the days of primitive municipal accumulation (outright backhanders and patronage etc) drawing to a close.


WorldbyStorm - May 1, 2016



EWI - May 4, 2016

DCC see themselves primarily as facilitators for private capital; that is a role they have actively sought and carved out for themselves over the past thirty years

This simply isn’t true; as any perusal of the local authority’s website will show you, there are a number of professions and occupations within which are quite unlikely to harbour sympathy for what you claim. There is likely to be a good deal of loud dissent inside, which only comes out on rare occasion (this is the way of things) when someone commits career suicide as a whistleblower.

Maybe you ought to qualify your remarks?


WorldbyStorm - May 4, 2016

I think you’re right re individuals but systemically and functionally there is a sense of private capital moving into poll position. Of course that sense could be wrong.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: