May 1 Right2Water Conference


Below is a brief overview of the recent right2water conference for those that were not in attendance. A range of issues could be discussed but these are simply what we felt are the key points.

The Conference

On May 1st, the traditional day of workers celebration and mass action, a function room in the head office of the Communication Workers Union in Dublin was filled with 180 guests for a day of presentations and discussion. The Right2Water Campaign, an important component of a much larger mass movement fighting water charges, called a conference entitled A Platform for Renewal. As a result of limited information in the weeks leading up to the event speculation had been rife. A new political alliance or party? Policies for the Water Movement? A new alliance of movements or the widening of a deeply effective, empowered and conscious force?

In the end what transpired was what can positively be seen as a starting point for a broader political alliance of unions and communities on a range of issues. 180 guests. 60 from each of the Right2Water designated pillars (Trade Unions, Politics and the Community), and a packed schedule of speakers from Podemos, Syriza and the Berlin Water Movement as well as a quick fire look at struggles and perspectives from Ireland with water campaigns in the north, political economy from Trademark and a report on a study of the water movement occupied the majority of the day.

The final part of the day moved from broad discussion to a specific set of proposals. Michael Taft and Brendan Ogle of UNITE presented ‘Policy Principles for a Progressive Irish Government’. 7 topics emerged, with a ‘Right2’ prefix covering Water, Work, Housing, Health, Education, Debt Justice and Democratic Reform. This was argued to be ‘the beginning’ of a process of ‘debate and discussion’ which should go out to every corner of the island and every community.

We would encourage all trade unionists and communities to get involved in this process collectively. Meet and discuss the proposals and make a submission in this way they will more genuinely reflect the views of working people and communities.


To get to this point much has happened. Social Partnership collapsed and the trade union movement had no response. It couldn’t prevent the attack on workers terms and conditions of employment and rights by successive governments and employers. While there were occasional national mobilisations there was no sustained campaign against austerity and all too often the brave and heroic stands were by small groups of workers with little to lose (La Senza, Thomas Cooke, Paris Bakery and Greyhound).

The Trade Unions engaged with the Water Movement has started to change this. 5 Unions – Mandate, UNITE, CWU, CPSU and OPASTI – have been involved in a serious and effective mass movement and now are setting out a political program. They are encouraging the rest of the trade union movement to follow suit and actively engage with communities and thousands of workers who are not members of any union. Political parties from the  left, to independents to moderate ex labour and Sinn Fein are in the room together engaging on these union proposals. Communities, the grassroots of the movement, are also at the table, although still underrepresented considering the centrality of their role in the water movement and wider challenges to existing power in Ireland.

This is an unprecedented and a positive step forward.  The TULF has constantly argued the trade union movements is in the unique, structural, position to pull together a serious class conscious movement of working people fighting for radical and meaningful change.

Questions Remaining

Important questions remain and points are still left unanswered.

What is needed to achieve what Right2Water have set out? Certainly some have a modest idea of just a policy platform, others would like this to be the start of a push for a left government but still more wish to see this as a movement for a deeper transformation of Irish society. What infrastructure is needed in terms of policies, media, education, or other institutions? What tactics, strategies, vision and ideas are necessary as first steps or as longer term goals for a more fundamental transformation of Ireland?

In terms of the policies to be debated what is needed or wanted by the left, by radicals and by class conscious activists? What can be added, how can it be engaged and proposed?

Finally what of democracy? What are the challenges and opportunities of 6 weeks of consultation that exist, of debate and discussion beyond 6 weeks? How can this process exist to deepen class conscious debate and empowerment? If democracy and empowerment is the starting point of renewal what of extending democracy to politics as a whole or even to the society and economy we live in, to the work places and communities in which we exist, to every part of the nation? How does a deeper vision of democracy clash with the powers that be in Ireland the EU, and a stringent anti-democratic global order?

Many more questions exist, many more points need to be debated, discussed and teased out. Hopefully we can engage with the proposals critically and constructively and seeing them within the context of a wider deepening of democracy and the class struggle necessary for more substantive change.

The TULF will be making a submission to r2w and will publish this shortly.