Going public about privatization
It’s a hostile takeover that would inflame any shareholder’s meeting. Corporations are gaining control of our public services at an unprecedented pace.
CUPE’s Annual Report on Privatization documents for the first time the depth and breadth of the corporate takeover that’s happening in our hospitals, schools, municipal services, community centres, social services and utilities. When the dots are connected, a clear picture emerges of the threat to good jobs, public safety, quality and accessibility.
Pillaging the public purse
Contrary to the seductive patter pitching privatization, selling off public services doesn’t save the public treasury money. Deals struck with corporations leave governments and taxpayers to assume the risk for many ventures and pick up the pieces when a venture fails. Privatized services continue to draw on the public purse. But instead of supporting well-run, efficient services, tax dollars now subsidize the profit margins of multinational corporations.
Facilities and infrastructure built with public dollars are sold at fire sale prices to privateers. Taxpayers pay to lease facilities they once owned and may eventually buy back. Higher private sector borrowing costs, inflated consulting fees, lengthy tendering processes, costly monitoring of private contractors, new user fees and many other hidden costs add up to a much higher price tag for the public. Recent examples such as leased schools in Nova Scotia, the New Brunswick toll highway and welfare reform in Ontario show going private is far more costly.
Compromising quality and safety
Whether it’s a healthy community water supply, a clean and safe school or a nutritious hospital meal, privatization threatens the quality of services Canadians rely on. Privateers cut corners and jobs to keep their costs to a minimum. This poses a significant danger to public health and safety.
The push to privatize health care services continues unabated, despite overwhelming evidence of the failure of private health care in the United States. Schools poorly cleaned by contract custodians are becoming health and safety hazards for students and teachers. Polls show Canadians oppose private water by a margin of five to one. Privately-operated water treatment facilities are cutting staff to the bone and lowering standards, creating the conditions for sewage spills and polluted drinking water.
It’s a similar story around the world - whether it’s the failure of private hydro in New Zealand, skyrocketing water costs in England or polluted water supplies in Australia and South Africa. Safety and quality are on the chopping block in the handover of services.
Access denied, accountability deferred
Privatized services usually spell limited access for users - whether it’s through new user fees, pared-down hours of service or the closing of a local service. Rural communities in particular will suffer as services are carved up to suit the logic of corporate profitability rather than community need.
Communities are losing control of the services that sustain them, as global headquarters replace local offices and authorities. Lines of accountability are blurred as politicians pass the buck to private operators, shielded from access to information requirements. Less responsive services are the result when ownership and service delivery shifts from local to transnational hands.
The public sector has for decades been a source of decent jobs, especially for women, Aboriginal workers and minorities. These jobs are being eliminated as services are privatized, leaving many with little ability to support their families and contribute to the economy. In a recent poll, Canadians ranked “good jobs in the local economy” as the most important aspect of keeping services public.
Operators of privatized services target wages to cut costs and boost profits. The jobs that replace public sector work in a privatized service - when those jobs are replaced at all - are low-paying, insecure jobs with few benefits. Work is often part-time or casual. Disappearing services and jobs force already-stressed families to shoulder new burdens. Most often it is women who must juggle this additional unpaid work.
CUPE has launched a major campaign to support publicly funded and delivered services. Canadians across the country want the network of public services that keeps our communities healthy and vital to be strengthened. Opinion polls show that three quarters of Canadians have grave concerns about privatization and public private partnerships. An overwhelming number of Canadians also support public delivery, funding and ownership of services.
CUPE’s Public Works! campaign targets key areas of concern in all ten provinces. CUPE is also organizing nationally to save Medicare, prevent the privatization of water and wastewater services and oppose the export of water for profit.
CUPE’s six-point plan to strengthen public services calls on governments at all levels to assure adequate funding, require not-for-profit public sector delivery, improve access, enhance accountability, respect workers and strengthen democratic control of our public services.
You will find an online version of CUPE’s 1999 Report on Privatization here
If you would like a hardcopy version mailed to you please contact: Robert Fox, CUPE’s Director of Communications at: firstname.lastname@example.org