Statement on Water
Not for sale!
Clean, plentiful and affordable water. Source of life and health. And, for greedy corporations, source of profit and wealth. Canadas water is under attack. And CUPE is on the front line in defence of this precious public resource.
Privatization threatens jobs, environment
An American consulting firm has recommended a Toronto-area wastewater treatment plant drastically cut the quality of wastewater dumped into Lake Ontario. Staff has already been cut from 140 to 102 and the consultants dont want to stop until they reach 68 staff. As part of this cost-cutting madness, the consultants say the city should reduce their high water quality standards to the minimum provincial standards. This is a dangerous move that would leave no margin for error if there were an accident.
Corporations that cant control the air we breathe want to control something just as fundamental to our health and well-being: the water we drink. Huge water multinationals are hovering on our shores, eager to get their hands on Canadas water. These corporate predators, who make no bones about their greed, call water liquid gold. They know there are huge profits to be made from water privatization.
But water isnt a product to be bought and sold like any other. Its a public resource to be treasured, protected and preserved.
CUPE members have taken a strong stand against the water privatizers and their so-called partnerships. Because we know once we lose control of our water, its gone. Forever.
Privatization unleashes a flood of problems, as weve learned from water privatization in Britain and France. Massive price hikes, lower quality drinking water, water-borne diseases and increased pollution are the hallmark of private water.
CUPE members are committed to fighting privatization, assuring access to water for all Canadians. Were determined to keep Canadas water systems in public hands, stopping the water corporations in their tracks and we have a plan to do it. Weve unleashed our campaign, and now we need to take it to the next level. Because our waters not for sale.
This is our fight
At our 1997 convention, CUPE members identified water privatization as our next big fight. And we were right.
Downloading and cutback-madness at the federal and provincial levels have left Canadian municipalities starved of the necessary funds to operate and maintain water and wastewater systems, also known as water infrastructure. Enter the water multinationals. These corporations are aggressively marketing themselves to cash-strapped cities and towns as a quick fix to the growing problem of decaying water and wastewater systems. These multinationals are offering to design, build, finance and operate water systems through public-private partnerships. What this amounts to is privatization a hostile takeover of our water supply.
CUPE members should be proud we tackled this issue when we did. Weve established ourselves as a leader in the fight. Weve developed a national grassroots campaign to keep our water public Water Watch. Local Water Watch committees are CUPEs eyes and ears on the ground across the country, forming our first and best line of defence against the water privatizers. Together, were working to stop the bulk export of water. To protect our environment. And to keep our water systems public.
The stakes are high
The consequences of private water are devastating. In France, water charges have shot up 150 per cent since 1984. In Britain, privatization meant price hikes of 67 per cent overall, and as much as 450% in some regions. The water corporations are ruthless. In Britain alone, more than 105,000 homes unable to keep up with the price hikes have had their water cut off since 1989.
The dirt on private water
Among the many problems with privatized water is massive corruption. Unlike elected governments, corporations are accountable to no one except their shareholders. Nowhere is this more evident than France, where numerous water company executives have been convicted of corruption and bribery.
Private companies cant be trusted with a precious resource like water. In only nine years, British water companies have been successfully prosecuted 260 times for environmental violations.
Private water breeds massive health problems. In Britain, dysentery increased 600 per cent, causing the British Medical Association to denounce water privatization because of the related health risks.
In France, one of the worlds biggest water companies was found guilty of delivering water unfit to drink. Over 5.2 million French citizens have been the victims of contaminated water.
The water corporations have spread their tentacles through Europe and several other continents, wreaking havoc and reaping huge profits wherever they go. The very value of water is precisely why it should not be privatized and precisely why the worlds biggest water companies meet every year to determine new ways to own more. Theyre big, theyre powerful, but theyre not invincible.
In fact, the water multinationals are extremely vulnerable to one simple thing: the truth. The truth about the failure of private water in places like Europe and Australia. The truth that so-called partnerships cost more than water systems financed and controlled by the public. The truth that our health and the health of our environment are too important to be left in the hands of corporations.
Partnerships sound friendly. Our challenge is to let the public know that when it comes to water, higher prices and loss of control is no partnership. CUPE will intensify our public education and action around water privatization and so-called partnerships, proving once and for all that PPPs are a bad deal for everyone except the corporations pushing them.
Its a coast-to-coast CUPE struggle
CUPE members have risen to the challenge and are defending our water from one coast to the other and countless places in between. Weve successfully fought off privatization in several key locations, including Nanaimo, Montreal and Thunder Bay. Weve developed early warning systems to identify the privatizers next targets. And, where privatizers already have their foot in the door, were watching them like hawks exposing the flaws in their deals and remaining vigilant in our defence of jobs, and clean, safe, affordable water.
Co-sponsored by CUPE
The summit an assembly of the real stakeholders in the water debate brought together environmentalists, trade unionists and other community activists. Together, we are building a strong bulwark against the wave of privatization threatening to engulf our water systems.
We need to establish more Water Watch committees, and support the work of existing committees. CUPE calls on each and every local to get involved in Water Watch, mobilizing CUPE members and local communities to protect public control of water.
Summit strengthens defence of water
At last months national Water Summit, more than 220 activists and experts put their heads and hearts together to come up with a plan to defend Canadas water. CUPE, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the Council of Canadians organized this historic summit. CUPE had a strong presence at the conference, with activists from municipal and other locals across the country playing an active role.
Water Watch committees were the talk of the meeting, and the seeds of several new committees were sown. Participants stressed the importance of these committees as the first line of defence in keeping our water public.
The level of energy, passion and commitment about keeping public control of our water was at an all-time high. And participants left the weekend meeting with a concrete action plan that takes on the issue in our communities as well as nationally and internationally. Summit participants endorsed a call to the federal and provincial governments to:
The summits clear message: the time to act is now. Together, we have the power to keep control of Canadas water.
Resistance means being active in communities across the country. Water Watch committees are an integral part of this resistance whether its fighting an immediate threat, acting as an early warning system or pre-empting a privatization attempt before it begins.
A number of Water Watch committees are already up and running, serving as CUPEs eyes and ears on the ground in this fight. The work of these committees was strengthened last month at a citizens Water Watch Summit
Making waves at the WTO
A few months from now the World Trade Organization will be meeting in Seattle and water will be on the agenda. This secretive and powerful institution has already flexed its muscle to overturn domestic laws designed to protect key areas like clean air, endangered species and public health. Weve got to make sure Canada and other countries retain their right to protect and control their water. We showed it could be done with the MAI, and well do it again in Seattle!
There is an alternative
The federal government has the power to prevent water privatization. And were going to push it to use that power.
Experts estimate it will take $80 to $90 billion over the next 15 years to maintain present water infrastructure and build new infrastructure. Despite the urgency of this need, the federal government has made no commitment to provide this funding. Without federal cash, Canadian municipalities grow increasingly vulnerable to corporate sales pitches for control of their water systems.
CUPE is pushing Finance Minister Paul Martin to include renewed infrastructure funding in the upcoming federal budget. Ottawa is sitting on an enormous surplus some of which could easily be invested in our water systems. Our lobby campaign will call on the federal government to ensure that any new federal funding go into public facilities, not the hands of private corporations through PPPs. Renewed public infrastructure funding will eliminate municipal governments excuse of lack of funds as a reason to hand water plants over to private corporations.
The lobby will happen on Parliament Hill and in MPs ridings. Well be deluging Paul Martin with postcards. And well also be helping members connect with their area MP and form local Water Watch coalitions. So every CUPE member has a vital role to play.
The time to act is now
Clearly, there is much work to be done in this important fight. And the time to act is now. CUPE calls on locals to:
- Establish Water Watch committees where none exist.
- Support the work of existing Water Watch committees.
- Participate in the lobby for federal infrastructure funding.
- Promote and support the joint initiatives decided at the national Water Watch Summit.
CUPE also commits to:
- Continue to educate our members, the media, decision-makers and the public about the consequences of water privatization, building support for public control.
- Continue to analyze and expose water privatization schemes at home and abroad.
- Expand our analysis of the environmental and conservation benefits of public water systems.
- Oppose the bulk export of water.
- Research and promote public alternatives to water privatization.
Public works! best for water
Water gives life to the planet, to our children and families, to our gardens and communities and so much more. This vital source of life and health should never become a source of profit.
Each and every one of us has a duty to protect Canadas water from the destructive plans of the privatizers. Keeping our water public assures equal access to affordable, clean and plentiful water. It assures community control. It protects jobs and creates new, green jobs. Keeping our water public is about our future and our childrens future.
Our polling shows Canadians know that public works best for water. Our challenge is to tap into that support to send the government and privatizers a message they cant ignore. Some things just arent for sale.
Competition is a crock
Water privatizers often claim privatized water facilities will introduce competition which, they argue, will increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In Britain, water companies were given a 25-year regional monopoly ten years ago. The companies dont have to face any competition for a quarter century, leaving them free to hike rates and cut services.
Trading away our water
Corporations are clamouring to take over not only our municipal water services, but water itself. Showing that corporate greed knows no bounds, big business wants to be allowed to drain Canadas lakes, rivers and streams for export.
Because of trade agreements like NAFTA, once one company is allowed to export Canadian water in bulk, the floodgates will open, making it impossible for the Canadian government to reverse the tide. Thats why CUPE and its coalition partners are pushing the federal government to pass a law banning the bulk export of water, safeguarding public control of this resource.
The environmental consequences of water export are almost unimaginable. There is never a surplus of water in our lakes and rivers. Removing large quantities of water doesnt mean more water will automatically take its place. Bulk exports could create an irreversible environmental catastrophe.
Big business is banking on water becoming the oil of the next millennium. But CUPE and other Canadians are saying NO.