It’s great to be here this morning to open what promises to be an exciting event.
I wish I could stay for the entire conference, but I’m afraid I have to fly to Halifax where we’re holding a press conference this afternoon to fight privatization of water.
As president of Canada’s largest union and as Canadian Vice President of the Public Services International I want to offer you a warm welcome to Quebec City and to Canada. An especially warm welcome to those of you who have travelled from far away – from France, Germany, Italy, the United States and across Canada.
And, I want to congratulate our CUPE brothers and sisters who represent the workers at Hydro-Quebec for organizing this conference on such short notice.
Comme présidente du plus grand syndicat du Canada, et comme vice-présidente canadienne de l’Internationale des services publics, je dis : Bienvenue à Québec. Bienvenue au Canada. Et aussi, une bienvenue chaleureuse à celles et ceux qui viennent de loin – de France, d’Allemagne, d’Italie, des États-Unis, et de loin au Canada.
Je tiens aussi à féliciter nos consoeurs et confrères, représentants des travailleuses et travailleurs d’Hydro-Québec, qui ont organisé cette conférence si rapidement.
You know, in CUPE we have a proud tradition. We never let our employers meet without staying close by and listening to what they are saying.
Some people say we’re paranoid. But I say, we come by our paranoia honestly. In our experience, when employers get together, it is usually to hatch some plot. And if we’re not on our toes – and ready to respond – the result is much, much worse.
So it’s great that all of you have come together to join us in this proud tradition. It’s great that we are all here together, standing close by, while our employers – the E7 – meet to refine their strategy for electrifying the developing world.
Of course, today and tomorrow, we will be doing more than just keeping a close eye on the E7. What this conference is really about is developing our own vision of sustainable power development. It’s about developing a worker’s vision – an international trade union vision.
And if we leave Quebec City with a commitment to continue to work together, internationally, this conference will have been a success.
Because, Brothers and Sisters, trade unions and workers working together across borders is more important today than ever before.
We are in the midst of a global push to deregulate and privatize electrical utilities. As you well know, there are some powerful forces at work pushing a strategy of development that puts profits ahead of people at every turn.
It is a strategy that says that people of the developing world will have to purchase their basic needs, like their power and their water.
It is a strategy designed to make developing nations dependent on transnational corporations. It is a strategy for colonialism in the 21st century and beyond.
So who are these powerful forces ? I am talking about the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the transnational corporations. But I am also talking about an increasing number of governments – and event publicly owned enterprises – that have accepted – and who are exploiting – this view that development is just another commodity in the global marketplace.
Around the world, more and more governments – and publicly owned enterprises – are pushing for more deregulation – more privatization – so that they can get a bigger shore of the world electricity market.
And that, sisters and brothers, is the situation we all face. That is the situation we must come to terms with together.
As workers and as trade unionists, we have to ask ourselves : is the strategy being advanced by the privateers and profiteers a good strategy ?
Who gains from this strategy ? And who loses ?
And we have to look at these questions from all perspectives : from the perspective of workers in the electrical industry who may stand to win short-term gains as our employers expand their operations.
But we must never forget the perspective of the workers and people of the developing world who have made it clear over and over again that they do not want development at any cost – certainly not at the cost of control over their own resources.
Not at the cost of their future and that of their children’s future.
And certainly not at the cost of the environment.
And most importantly, we must ask ourselves, if we reject the development strategies of the World Bank, the WTO, the E7, what is our alternative ?
The answers are not easy. Our union – the Canadian Union of Public Employees – Canada’s largest union – has been struggling with these questions and although we cannot claim the have all the answers, we have decided to take action.
Our union has decided we won’t stand by and allow our government to sell off our natural resources and public services to corporations in the name of global trade.
We won’t stand by and allow the full scale deregulation of key sectors, like the electrical sector.
We will not stand by while huge corporations try to take over our nation, take away democratic rights, threaten our environment and our labour rights and destroy our public services.
And we are saying, that is we insist on control over our electricity, our public services, and our natural resources, then we should also be insisting that the people of the developing world be accorded the same rights.
We’re saying, yes to development – but only on the terms acceptable to the people of developing nations. That’s the kind of international solidarity our union believes in and is working towards.
We know from our own experience that the struggle for public control over development – for public control of our future – is a difficult struggle. We face powerful opponents. But we also know that we can win.
Our union started a major campaign against the privatization of our public services in 1997. We have also fought hard, throughout our union’s history against the erosion of public services – against contracting out, against cuts in service levels, and cuts in access to public services.
But in recent years our fight back has gained tremendous momentum – because in recent years the attack on our public services and resources – like our public electrical utilities – has been relentless.
As you know, different unions have responded differently to the global attack on the public sector.
Some have taken the approach that privatization and deregulation can’t be stopped and that the best course of action is for a union to get the best deal for its members under difficult circumstances.
But I’m proud to say that our union has taken a different approach. We’ve taken the path of resistance, not accommodation. And as a result, we’ve been able to beat back the outright sell-off of our services.
We’ve had successes in every sector : health, education, social services, municipal services. But most importantly, we’ve also had some successes in the electrical industry.
A couple of years ago, the government of Ontario introduced legislation allowing the sale of municipal electrical utilities. But our local unions fought back. The public is on our side in this fight and because of the hard work of our local unions – on the ground. And today, because of the resistance to privatization by our members – most of our municipal utilities remain in public control.
Public control. Public ownership. These are our objectives. Because we know that they are key to ensuring public access to electricity – they are key to ensuring reliable electrical services.
And public control and public ownership is also critical to ensuring that the rights of electrical workers are protected and enhanced.
We are fighting hard to keep our public because we know the alternative is disastrous.
In Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, privatized electricity resulted in 110,000 jobs being lost – 42 per cent of the workforce. Meanwhile corporate executives gave themselves fat raises of 100 to 200 to 300 per cent.
And prices ? Well, prices rose dramatically. All of the so-called savings from privatization came as a direct result of cutting jobs, and those savings were passed on directly to shareholders and to corporate executives.
In the United States over the past two years, residential consumers have been subject to both price hikes and power shortages as a result of deregulation. And here in Canada, it is anticipated that deregulation will force prices up by at least 10 per cent.
So privatization and deregulation is not an option for Canada. And if it is not an option for us, how can we not oppose it as an option for the developing world ?
For us in Canada, public control of electricity is a question of democracy, as it surely is for the people of the developing world.
For what is more fundamental to democracy that control over the water we drink and the electricity that gives us light and heat ?
Brothers and sisters, it is no understatement to say that this conference is taking place at a critical time. The E7 meeting is taking place on the heels of the IMF meeting in Prague, which took place soon after the World Bank meeting in Washington, which took place not so long after the WTO meeting in Seattle.
At each of these meetings, discussions took place on how to accelerate the privatization of public services – on how to advance global corporatization as the solution to the world problems of famine, water and power.
But at each of these meetings, thousands of demonstrators were also in the streets calling for a different solution – a solution that puts people before profits – a solution that is truly sustainable.
Around the world, workers and popular movements are mobilizing and speaking out for this alternative solution.
Our union is proud to be part of this movement, as is the Public Services International.
And we are having an impact.
In Mexico last year, union opposition forced the government to back down form their plan to privatize the electricity industry.
In Brazil state governors were elected on their promise to oppose further privatization. And now they are putting private enterprises back under public control and ownership.
Even in the United States, the municipality of Long Island, New York, took over the running of the local electricity utility from the private sector in 1999, after constant complaints and problems.
In Thailand, grass roots protests against privatization are right now delaying the sale of the state owned utility.
De chaque coin de la terre, des mouvements populaires envoient le même message. Le pouvoir de la planète appartient aux peuples de la planète – et nous sommes biens décidés de le garder ainsi.
Nous pouvons tirer de la force de ces victoires. Et nous le faisons. Parce qu’elles indiquent que nous sommes en mouvement. Nous pouvons gagner. Et nous gagnerons.
In every corner of the globe, popular movements are sending the same message. The power of this planet belongs to the people of this planet – and we’re determined to keep it that way.
We can draw strength from these victories. And we do. Because they signal that we are on the move. We can win. And we will.
Thank you very much.
Have a great conference.