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PrivatisationAlternatives / ReformsPublic-Public PartnershipsFinancing Public Water
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Jul 14 2011
Supplied or written by Public Services International

A people’s victory in Italy!

A resounding NO to water privatization, nuclear energy, and impunity for politicians

 Italians voted in a nationwide referendum on 12-13 June to reject the privatisation of water services, to reject plans to expand the use of nuclear energy, and to limit Prime Minister Berlusconi's legal impunity.  Water privatisation was rejected by an astonishing 25 million votes to 1 million – a majority of 96%.

 The vote was the result of years of organised campaigning by Public Services International affiliate Funzione Pubblica CGIL, working in regional and national alliances with many civil society organisations.  Under the previous government, the campaign had worked to support a law which would have made water privatisation illegal.  When that government was replaced by the current Berlusconi regime, they transformed the campaign into a demand for a referendum on Berlusconi’s law requiring privatisation of water and other public services.

 

There had to be a 50% turnout for the referendum to be valid – and the Italian government had urged people not to bother voting at all.  But over 57% of Italians supported the campaign by exercising their right to vote.  The result was a victory for democracy, too.

 

PSI helped this campaign in a number of ways. PSI’s global campaign against water privatisation provided constant support and impetus for the movement in Italy, as in other countries.  PSI’s specialist research unit PSIRU contributed many briefings and made many presentations for the campaign.  And PSI helped increase the turnout of voters by encouraging affiliate members of Italian origin living abroad to vote in this referendum.

 

We can apply a number of the lessons learned from this important victory to strengthen our movements. 

 

  • The defense of public services such as water is a global issue, even if the key struggles take place at local, regional or national level.  The result of the Italian referendum can be used to strengthen the position of unions everywhere fighting to keep water services public. 

 

  • In the water sector, this victory is in line with a series of successful anti-privatisation campaigns such as in Uruguay, where mass mobilisations forced a change in the national constitution; in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where an uprising ended the privatisation plans of the huge American multinational corporation; in Ghana, where public mobilisations recently ended a commercially focused management contract of the national water company; and in South Africa, where a privatisation agenda was stemmed and the right to water was enshrined in the Constitution.  Public and trade union campaigns at local, regional and international levels recently culminated in the successful vote in the United Nations General Assembly in July 2010 to endorse the Right to Water.

 

In these campaigns, trade unions worked closely with NGOs, creating powerful movements to overturn corporate and politically-inspired initiatives

 

These campaigns have not been limited to job security, wages and working conditions - although these must remain core considerations for any trade union.  Unions must develop a long-term strategy to build ‘social unionism’ and make it a priority to reach out to the citizens who depend upon the services we provide.  It is only in strong alliances that we can defeat the power of those who are usurping the will of the people, either through corruption, authoritarianism, or distorted democracies.

 

As trade unionists, we need to prepare our members for long political fights based on winning public support for the public services we provide.

 

The series of short-term battles are nearly always part of a longer and broader picture. We need to create lasting alliances that are able to mobilize broadly on specific issues; to use creative techniques for mobilizing, especially in reaching out to the youth, and to build stronger connections with international allies.  We need to promote positive development of each public service, building participatory mechanisms which allow workers and citizens to have ongoing dialogue with elected officials and public managers, to deliver quality public services for all citizens. The Council of Global Unions has a number of tools for this ongoing campaign, known as Quality Public Services – ACTION NOW!

I urge you to link up with this campaign at http://www.qpsactionnow.org/



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