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Est. April 5, 2002
October 11, 2018 - Issue 759

Workers of the World
Uniting to Prevent Privatization (THEFT)
Public Services


"Privatization has been going on in the U.S. for a
very long time and the upside for the corporations
that engage in such practices and the rich, who
invest in the companies, is that those who work for
private firms are often non-union and, therefore,
are paid at a lower rate than the municipal workers
who did the work when the service was public."

The experiences of privatization of public services have shown that there is little that benefits either the people or the nation and a global organization of trade unions is calling for worldwide demonstrations against privatization during the week of Oct. 22-26.

Most rank-and-file citizens of any country do not understand the scheme of privatization of such things as schools and education, health care systems, roads and highways, social programs, welfare programs, postal services and, even, the military. There is a long list of government-provided services that can be milked for profit by corporations that are standing by while their politicians pass laws that allow them to tap into these lucrative contracts.

Trade Union International Public Services and Allied (TUI-PSA), a branch of the World Federation of Trade Unions, stated this week, “...(O)nce again we will organize initiatives, demonstrations, strikes or other actions to increase awareness of the disastrous impacts of privatizations on the lives of workers, peoples, and countries, seeking to strengthen the fight to prevent new processes (of privatizing schemes) and to reverse those that have meanwhile been implemented.”

Privatization of public services is similar to hedge fund operations: A company is acquired by a hedge fund, a load of debt is piled on, the resultant millions going into the pockets of the fund operators, and when the hedge fund is finished, the company is bankrupt, usually goes out of business, and leaves hundreds or thousands of workers and their families without the means to earn a decent living. Of course, there are several steps in between, but by now, those steps are pro forma, the hedge fund operators know the game and the results are too predictable. In the end, though, the workers of the victim company and their workers and communities are left out in the cold.

One example of privatization in the U.S. began to occur in the 1970s and 1980s, when it appeared to some legislative bodies (city councils and county legislatures) that trash collection was getting too expensive and they didn't want to raise taxes to cover the increased cost. Along came a slick-talking sales rep for a private waste collection company who lowballed the cost and made it appear that the savings were a boon to the municipal budget.

The government body goes for it and the private company takes over. The city or county begins the process of selling off all the equipment and reshuffles the workers (if they don't lay off many) and the elected representatives wash their hands of trash collection. But, once the operation is complete, the private contractor comes back and says, “Well, we've discovered that it costs more than we thought, so we're going to need more money in the next contract.” So it goes, but there is no alternative for the city or county. This can be repeated with any pubic service and it often is. The loser always is the government and its people, who must pay increased taxes to satisfy the private company.

Privatization has been going on in the U.S. for a very long time and the upside for the corporations that engage in such practices and the rich, who invest in the companies, is that those who work for private firms are often non-union and, therefore, are paid at a lower rate than the municipal workers who did the work when the service was public. It's a double benefit for capital: the profits (from lower wages and the business, itself) go to the company and its investors and there is a low-wage work force that does not question low wages, health benefits (or their lack), pensions (or their lack) or anything else.

What the week of fight against privatization shows very clearly that the takeover of public services is occurring in most countries, enabled in large part by the relatively free and easy movement of capital through the international banking empire and the so-called free trade agreements, which seem to be nothing less than easy access to the resources (natural and human) of every country that international capital enters. Held as a last resort (often, in recent times) is the threat of war against the weaker country. Think Iraq and Libya.

In a statement this week, TUI-PSA declared: “With the promotion of this week against privatizations we want to denounce its impacts and seek to broaden and deepen the struggle for their reversal, defending public services and social functions of the states as a way to combat the glaring social inequalities and to implement rights. But at the same time we will place on the agenda that it is necessary and possible to have a system that rationalizes production to serve society and not to serve private profit. The actions carried out by the trade unions in this area aim to strengthen the struggle in each country as the most fertile ground for the broader struggle of workers and peoples around the world, respecting their specificities.”

Such a goal is certain to raise the alarm for transnational corporations, especially in the so-called rich countries, for unity and solidarity among workers in so many countries is a threat to their impunity in acting to extract the wealth of the weaker countries. For generations, the powerful have had a free rein to, in effect, run other countries, not in the 19th Century colonial sense, but with the power of money offered to the leaders through such entities as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And, as always, there is the threat of military action, not by the army of the powerful necessarily, but through para-militaries in the home country, which the U.S. has supported in various parts of the world for many decades. By and large, it has been a successful technique: The U.S. is about 5 percent of the world's population, but it is said to use 25-30 percent of the world's resources. Those resources were not freely given up by the weaker nations. They were taken.

What global capitalism must fear most is a rising of working men and women in every country, although it seems to be an impossible task. The means of communication, the right to travel and to meet and speak with trade unions and other organizations of working citizens are mostly controlled by the rich and powerful. Diplomacy and academic freedom as they apply to free travel among nations by the non-elite (speaking about financial and political and military elite, not intellectual elite) are controlled by corporations and their minions in government. One of the most recent example of this is the threat of sanctions against anyone who is involved in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in defense of the human rights of Palestinians in Israel. If some of the sanctions are carried out to the letter of the law or executive order, it could make it difficult for people so sanctioned to earn a living.

It's not likely that global capitalists are too worried about TUI-PSA's anti-privatization week, but they are sure to monitor it. It has taken them generations, especially the U.S., to gain hegemony over political structures around the world and it will not be easy to dislodge them from their seats of power, but the coming week's effort at international unity is a start. For more information about the unions involved, visit: Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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