Report of the EPSU water seminar organised with Kommunal in Malmo, 18 September

(22 September 2008)

Water in Public Hands - union campaigning - Using the opportunity of a series of water activist events during the European Social Forum, trade unions from the water sector reflected on current developments and campaigns to keep water services public.

Be proud of public water - the importance of public water operators Most municipalities, cities and countries have excellent public water companies. Such companies are however not vocal at the European or global level. Unions can do more to encourage their public water managers to share their experience, cost effectiveness and high quality services with each other and counter the campaigns of multinational companies to paint a bleak picture.

The European dimension - Emanuelle Lobina of the University of Greenwich presented a number of policies of the European Commission that seek to promote the commercialization of water services. The Commission has started infringement procedures against Italy over inter-municipal cooperation in yet another worrying example of how the European Commission is abusing its role and powers to drive through pro-business policies. More on:

Unions also considered the importance of using the water theme to mobilize their members for the European elections in June 2009. Seeking the position of the candidates and their parties on water policies will be important, and it is recommended that the unions use World Water Day 22 March 2009 as a rallying point.

Unions campaigning - Many unions are active in local and national fights to keep water systems public. The unions reported how they work with a broad range of organizations. (See below for a report on these activities)

Global dimension - PSI’s David Boys shared his experience with colleagues and informed them on PSI’s activities outlining the importance of promoting the concept of public water operator partnerships, encouraging the unions to be active with their management. The private sector is engaging in a direct attack on the concept as it would provide a positive image to public sector companies and hence reduce their market share. PSI will also be active in the World Water Forum, March 2009, Istanbul.
The unions also prepared for their participation in the European Social Forum activities.

Examples of unions campaigning
Germany – Verdi is involved in a range of actions with social and water activists, supports the creating of a new network of publicly owned water companies, has been successful in local referenda to prevent the privatization of water and other public services.

Hungary – VKDSZ is monitoring the proposals of the government to reform the countries water system which should eventually lead to privatize the water services. It is municipal support to prevent this.

Ireland – SIPTU presented how unions are fighting public private partnership schemes (also called Develop Build and Operate) and have demonstrated how such schemes are less efficient and cost-effective as direct public management.

Italy – CGIL-FP recounted the story of the unions involvement in the Italian water campaign with many others such as environmental groups, churches, local authorities, public water company managers and politicians. The Italian campaign was successful in demanding a referendum, in mass national rallies and obtaining a moratorium to privatization. And while the election of the pro-business conservative government was a set back the water movement is organizing itself to continue.

Netherlands – AbvaKabo related the success of the Dutch law that effectively rules out privatization. It is working with public water companies to promote public public water operator partnerships. It is working with the government to develop this further.

Portugal – STAL stressed the importance of involving workers and citizens in the campaigns it is running, which includes a wide series of events, leafleting important meetings, organizing demonstrations and a website (Water for All) as well as proposals for public management. It seeks to address the crisis of municipal finance and bad management, it fights the attempts of local authorities to privatize water services and reports problems with multinational companies such as Veolia over that company’s refusal to collective bargaining.

Sweden – Kommunal and management of VA Syd, the Malmo water company, presented a case on how unions worked with the management to prevent privatization, en ensured a more effective operation. Together with the water company of Lund they have created a municipal federation fully owned by the municipalities while keeping public control and municipal ownership. More cities are interested in this creative model.

Turkey – concern was expressed by unions over the proposals of the Turkish government to give sell concessions on the use of surface (lakes, rivers etc.) to foreign companies.
The above is a small sample of reported activities. Unions from Finland, France, Iceland and Norway mentioned their work and activities. EPSU affiliated unions are further engaged in water in public hand campaigns in many other countries - Austria, Belgium, Romania, UK (Scotland and Northern Ireland) to mention a few. And this links with the many campaigns of water and other unions across the world in which PSI unions participate.

The seminar was organized by EPSU and Kommunal, 18 September 2008, Malmo. The EPSU Deputy General Secretary participated

- read also the report on the water seminar EPSU organised with a range of water activist groups at the European Social Forum

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