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Editorial: Water price hikes: we need a mass movement for public ownership

Water price hikes: we need a mass movement for public ownership

UNITE’S Sharon Graham calls the water industry “a symbol of the failure of privatisation writ large.” 

She is right. The only reaction to water bosses’ announcement that they will raise prices above inflation from April should be a mass campaign for renationalisation now.

Water suppliers claim they need to raise bills because they are planning big investments to cut down on leaks. How dare they?

Since privatisation these crooks have paid out over £70 billion in dividends to shareholders, loaded the sector — debt-free when privatised — with over £50bn in debt and raised bills by over 40 per cent.

While milking the system for everything it’s worth they have neglected basic maintenance and repairs. In London and the south-east alone, water regulator Ofwat calculated last year that 600 million litres, equivalent to 270 Olympic swimming pools, are leaked from pipes every single day. 

They have behaved with utter contempt for the environment, discharging untreated sewage into our waterways thousands of times. They have continued to pay executives millions even when fined for their illegal ecological vandalism.

Given most of England’s water supply is now foreign-owned and the dividends flow out of the country, it may not be straightforward to claw back the billions robbed from us. But we must put an end to the robbery. That means bringing water back into public ownership (in line with almost every other country in the world).

Labour has not only ruled this out, it was caught last year emailing water industry execs asking for secret meetings on how to spin continued private ownership to an enraged public.

With an election likely this year, the left must look at how we can force a political shift at Westminster to reflect the overwhelming public consensus in favour of public ownership — not just of water, but of other key sectors.

Our steel industry stands on the brink because of corporate irresponsibility. It’s a strategic resource and we need control of it back.

Royal Mail has been looted by the privateers and regulators now suggest slashing delivery days. Rishi Sunak says no (it’s an election year) but the postal service will be destroyed, under Tories or Labour, after the election unless we build the campaign to stop that — to renationalise it — right now.

There are further examples. Privatisation has been a disaster for essential services across the board. But it is extremely lucrative for our corporate and political elite and will only be reversed under pressure from below.

Attack on free speech

THE director of public prosecutions is appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn the acquittal of two peaceful protesters for insulting Iain Duncan Smith.

Ruth Wood and Radical Haslam were charged over an incident in Manchester during the October 2021 Conservative Party conference at which both called the former work and pensions secretary “Tory scum” and Ms Wood added “F*** off out of Manchester.”

That their case even reached the High Court should have set alarm bells ringing over the creeping restriction of free speech in Britain. That court’s not guilty verdict was welcome, though its consideration of their motives for insulting Mr Duncan Smith was surely unnecessary: rudeness to a politician should not be considered criminal, end of.

The Crown Prosecution Service seems determined to spend further resources — it declines to reveal how much it has spent on this case — in its dogged bid to further criminalise peaceful protest and silence those who confront the powerful over their crimes. The left must get serious about attacks on free speech — we need an orchestrated campaign to restore the liberties we are losing fast.

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