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How many corporations have bought into the United Nations’ not-for-profit public water program? Exactly zero after 18 months of pushing to halve the number of people who don’t have access to water or basic sanitation.

Who says so? Well, H.R.H. Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation (UNSGAB), that’s who. And he said it in response to a question by CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Claude Genereux at the 100th anniversary world congress of Public Services International yesterday.

The prince spoke at a workshop on public utilities as head of the water and sanitation drive under UNSGAB. The goal to halve the population who can’t get safe public drinking water is among the UN Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015.

“There is nothing stopping a company from buying into the campaign for a feel good reason,” the prince said. But so far none have done so and he acknowledged that it is not a traditional form of investment for profit-motivated companies.

Other commentators addressed the issue of neo-liberalism and how it has damaged workers’ efforts to bring public water to communities. Still others talked about solutions such as public-public partnerships rather than private-public ones.

In addition to the utilities workshop, CUPE delegates attended an official workshop on health that showed CUPE to be in the forefront of health care campaigning. They also went to informal workshops on Iraq and Palestine and privatization in the global economy.

PSI history launched after centenary celebration

Writing a history of an organization with 20 million members in more than 600 unions from more than 150 countries can’t be an easy task.

Somehow labour historian Fritz Keller and co-author Andreas Hoferl have done it. The result is a 204-page book called Fighting for Public Services: Better Lives, A Better World.

Published in English, French, German and Spanish, the soft-cover book mentions Canada only twice in its index. Once regarding health care: In contrast to the United States, “there is still a national political consensus about healthcare as a public service. Canada spent 9.6 per cent of its GDP on healthcare in 2002.” The book offers a paragraph on the history of medicare.

The second mention refers to a 2006 Supreme Court of Canada decision “in favour of a trade union that proved that Air Canada discriminates against female flight attendants.” Hmmm! Which union, we wonder? No name is given and perhaps with good reason.

It is almost impossible to identify every organization and individual in the 100-year history of PSI without missing someone, so best not to try. Instead, the authors focus on the issues and events that concern the affiliates to the global union federation since its inception in 1907.

Several stark black and white illustrations by the late Viennese artist Otto Rudolf Schatz depict some of those struggles as the book unfolds some answers about PSI. For example, as the book’s cover notes, “How did PSI move from being a federation of European municipal/utility unions, dominated by men, into an organization with mainly female membership, whose affiliates are mainly in the South?”

Centenary celebrations included theatre, video and interviews

In addition to the book launch, delegates were treated to 2 ½ hours of theatrical skits showing public sector workers on the job, interviews with PSI leaders and a special presentation about women in the global union.

Canada’s Diane Woods told of the first two PSI women’s conferences and of the successes of bringing women into PSI as leaders. Current PSI president Ilya Thorn is one example.

The celebrations were punctuated by several videos, including one on Sunday’s young workers’ forum. The video featured a comment from CUPE delegate Candace Rennick.