As the push to privatize moves across the country, its clear the fightback starts in our local communities and our locals where the most vulnerable are hit the hardest.
And whos most at risk? Women and people of colour. Because privatization promotes inequalities and targets service jobs including laundry, kitchen and housekeeping jobs largely held by women and people of colour.
It hits us first and it hits us the hardest, says Punam Khosla, a feminist and an anti-racist community activist. We are seen as more vulnerable. Thats where [the privateers] come in first.
On Vancouver Island, when single mother Peggy Osborne and hundreds of her coworkers at the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria and other worksites walked off the job in February, it was more than just to protest the loss of their jobs. It was also about standing up for disadvantaged workers against the BC governments privatization plans.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority has handed a five-year contract to the UK multinational Compass Group, cutting 1,021 cleaning and food service jobs. Many of those jobs are currently performed by single mothers and women of colour.
Many of the women here are single moms, main breadwinners, says Osborne, who has received her pink slip despite years of experience. How can the BC government expect us to live on minimum wage while giving the profit to multinationals?
The global profiteers replace decent wages that can support a family with minimum wage, part-time and contract positions with few benefits. In Osbornes case, Compass has offered her $9.50 per hour, less than half what she earns under the Hospital Employees Union collective agreement.
Many women I know are living hand to mouth. How can Gordon Campbell say our wages are too expensive? asks Osborne. Now single mothers have to compete with a thousand laid off workers for the same job.
Privatization affects not only those who deliver public services, but those who depend on them. When the government starts cutting services and imposing user fees, the burden ends up on the shoulders of women.
And as women and people of colour are at the lower end of the wage spectrum, the fees hit hard.
Forty per cent of people of colour in the Toronto area are living in poverty, says Khosla. We are of course hit the hardest.
Privatization distorts public services and programs from equal access to access for those who can pay. As a consequence, it limits the mobility and public life of women and people of colour.
In a study conducted by Khosla in nine communities in Toronto, a majority of women found they are trapped at home. Many admit that they are stretched to the breaking point.
Home has become a recreational centre and a hospital, says Khosla. Society has made it a womans responsibility to take care of the children and the elderly.
Having contributed to the funding of services through their taxes and their rent, they are denied services as simple as transportation because they cannot afford to pay a second time through tolls and higher fares.
A glaring example is the privatization of highway 407 in the Greater Toronto Area. Having doubled peak hour tolls in the past few years, the multinationals that own the road imposed another rate hike last February without permission from the Ontario government.
When we take away employment equity, labour protections, community services, public spaces and programs, all in the name of efficiency and profit those who can least afford it pay the highest price, says Khosla.
Community mobilization is the way out of this dark hole. Though privatization has many faces, its every move affects people women, people of colour and people with disabilities at the community level.
Uniting the most vulnerable will provide new fuel for the fight against privatization. But we have to be up front that some are hurt more than others. We think that we can build solidarity by not talking about who got hit the most. We have to change that, says Khosla.
We might have lost some battles but in the end, we can win with an inclusive community-based anti-privatization campaign.