A couple of months ago, I informed our gas supplier that I didn’t accept their arbitrary decision to increase my Direct Debit by £10 a month. Instead, I reduced it. I was already annoyed at giving money to Shell (I haven’t forgotten Ken Saro-Wiwa), having been saddled with them after our previous “ethical” provider went bust last year.
I knew I was making a slightly futile gesture, but I hoped that, as the energy bill crisis grew, so would a mass movement of non-payment.
We’re not there yet, but I’ve decided to get involved with the Don’t Pay campaign. It’s only been going a few weeks, but is growing fast. Last night, I joined a group stuffing envelopes with leaflets, being dispatched to places all over the country. Initially, there was only about 15 of us. An hour later, it was double that and volunteers were still coming when I left. Just as well. There were 300,000 leaflets to get in the post!
Some of us also did a bit of leafleting on Mile End Road. Over years of doing it, you get a feel for campaigns that are, or aren’t, connecting with people. This one will. The rank profiteering of the private utility companies and demands for government action to control it could shift the political terrain in the next few months, particularly if it combines with the rising tide of trade union resistance to the cost-of-living scandal.
Inevitable comparisons have already been made with the campaign against the Poll Tax. I was there for that one and I see definite similarities, above all, a sense of outrage. When the Secretary General of the UN articulates that feeling, you know something’s happening. A couple of days ago, António Guterres, said:
“The combined profits of the largest energy companies in the first quarter of this year are close to $100 billion. This grotesque greed of the fossil fuel industry and their financiers is punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people, while destroying our only home”.
Obviously, there are important details to be worked through for how a mass “Don’t Pay” campaign will work in practice. But when the anti-Poll Tax movement started, it didn’t begin with analysing the various legal and technical consequences of non-payment, but with building a grassroots network of opposition. However, unlike the Poll Tax, different people pay their energy bills in different ways and can take more or less risk. But at this point, my primary motivation is to be part of something that reminds us we don’t have to be passive victims of greedy corporations and craven politicians, particularly when they are conspiring to destroy our quality of life and our planet.