Activities 2012 Public Services & Democracy

31 August 2013
Article

Public Services and Democracy in 2012

 

Supporting and learning from Coalitions of labour and Citizens

One key source of emerging alternatives to privatisation has been the global trade union movement. These have gone beyond simple defence of wages and conditions to construct coalitions with citizens and communities. TNI has conducted in-depth studies in Germany, South Africa, Spain and the UK on how this allows the latent capacities of public service workers – their extensive knowledge of the work they do – to be harnessed in developing and implementing alternatives to privatisation.

The aim is to produce resources from which others facing the same struggles can learn. These publications have been accompanied by talks by TNI Fellow Dr Hilary Wainwright at the Globalisation School of the International Labour Research and Information Group in South Africa; the Global Labour Institute school at Northern College in the UK; and ‘Real Utopias’, the 2012 annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Together with public sector union confederation Public Services International, TNI also helped to produce an accessible booklet on the subject, including case studies from Brazil, Italy, Norway and Uruguay. Particularly important in this process was the South African Municipal Workers Union, which allowed extensive access to its members and officials as part of documenting the union’s experiences of resistance to privatisation.

Public Enterprises

ShowCasing best Practice

Building on its long-standing work on public services, largely in the water, electricity and telecom sectors, this year saw TNI extend its focus to public enterprises more broadly. A major conference focused on Latin America was convened with Uruguay’s National Directorate for Industrial Development (DNI-MIEM) and the National Telecom Company (ANTEL). The aim was to showcase ‘best practices’ in the governance of public enterprises, and to discuss the constraints and possibilities of state ownership. This included debates about the limitations of the state in constructing more inclusive, equitable and ecologically sound development.

Originally planned as a seminar, the clamour to participate resulted in a full-blown conference being held involving 442 people from 14 countries, with a further 90 people following the live-streamed event online. These were mainly civil servants, from public sector workers to government ministers. For the first time, the directors of Uruguay’s five main public enterprises (ANTEL, telecoms; OSE, water; UTE, electricity; ANCAP, energy; and AFE, railways) shared a public panel. The conference was covered extensively in the national media. It concluded with multiple agreements for further research and exchange, as well as expressions of interest in collaboration from the Geneva-based inter-governmental bodies UNCTAD and the South Centre. See bit.ly/tnipeconf.