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CUPEs campaign to protect public services

Across the country, CUPE activists are stepping up their efforts to fight off the privatization of public services. Whether they work with patients or students or local residents or clients or consumers or neighbours, they see first hand the impact when corporations operate public services. They see quality suffer and user fees rise. They see fewer staff scrambling to do more with less. They see what happens to safety and to the environment when corners are cut and accountability is clouded. They see the impact on jobs, wages and benefits.

CUPE has a long history of defending public services, working locally, provincially and on the national stage to promote the expansion and improvement of services that are vital to our quality of life. This struggle has taken place in different forms: at the community level, at the bargaining table, through job action and political action, and by organizing public sector workers who were not union members.

To support and strengthen these efforts, CUPE has launched the Public Works! campaign, a national effort to fight privatization and strengthen public services. By providing information and analysis, we will give Canadians the evidence and the arguments to challenge the corporate interests that are promoting this agenda. By reaching out to the public and mobilizing our own members we are confident we can demonstrate the importance of public delivery of vital community services.

Given the range of public services that are under attack, CUPE members are working in every province and every sector. But we have also identified some particular targets to highlight different aspects of the privatization threat across the country.

At a national level, CUPE has identified water for profit as a priority. Across Canada, Water Watch Committees will monitor the threat to public control of our water resources and our water services. These committees will mobilize communities to halt the privatization of municipal water and wastewater services, stop the bulk export of water and promote conservation. They will also work to ensure that adequate funding is available to renew public infrastructure.

CUPE is also working to defend our public health system. At the bargaining table in several provinces and through community action across the country, we are pressing governments to restore adequate funding to Medicare. As well, we support the call by the Canadian Health Coalition for urgent action to extend public health care to include essential services such as home care and drug insurance. Because it is not enough to increase health care spending if the added dollars are being siphoned off as profit by private corporations.

A third national element of the Public Works! campaign is to tackle the tangle of trade and investment agreements that constrain governments and peoples while giving free rein to private capital. The Agreement on Internal Trade, the Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA restrict the power of governments to govern in the best interests of their citizens. But the next generation of multilateral agreements targets the role of governments and the public sector even more aggressively.

In Newfoundland, CUPE members are working to protect social housing as the province proceeds to dismantle the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation piece by piece. As homelessness grows across the country and the private sector has demonstrated neither the interest nor the ability to provide affordable shelter, the need for public sector leadership has never been more clear.

In Nova Scotia, the province has embraced lease-back schools, undermining public control of public education. Community schools responsive to local needs are replaced by regional facilities run for profit. School boards are mere tenants, limiting our ability to hold them to account for the condition of our schools. Meanwhile, the taxpayer picks up an ever higher tab.

In New Brunswick, CUPE is challenging the privatization of a stretch of the Trans-Canada. The province has contracted with a consortium of multinational firms chaired by Doug Young, defeated federal transport minister to build and operate a new toll highway between Moncton and Fredericton. The corporation stands to reap a profit of $1 billion over the next 30 years.

In Prince Edward Island, Canadas most successful recycling-composting system is faced with privatization. The province is moving to hand over control of all solid waste collection, processing and recycling for the province. As a result, many households will pay twice through taxes and increased user fees while environmental and quality concerns will rise.

In Quebec, the slide toward privatization can be seen on many fronts. In health care, in education and in municipal services, workers have seen the impact of contracting out. To counter this threat, CUPE called on candidates in last falls provincial election to recommit themselves to investing in the public delivery of public services. This year, well be following up on these efforts.

In Ontario, CUPE is confronting privatization at every turn. Reeling from deep budget cuts, restructuring and downloading, municipalities, school boards and hospital boards are being pressured to privatize. CUPE is protecting public control of our water services and defending the quality of health care, education and social services by resisting the privatization of essential support services.

In Manitoba, CUPE is targeting municipal services. City managers in Winnipeg have proposed contracting out a wide range of services including solid waste, ground and building maintenance, recreation facilities, planning and works. In each case, the claim to savings is doubtful yet the negative impact on accountability, quality and responsiveness to the community is huge.

In Saskatchewan, our campaign focuses on the need to defend the public health system. Even in the birthplace of Medicare, we see public funds directed to private labs, contracting out of support services, the growth of private “personal care homes” and a worrisome move to “self managed care”. As a result, the financial pressures on the system continue to grow while patients and staff suffer.

In Alberta, the threat to public health care remains acute. CUPE led public opposition to Bill 37 that would have allowed the province to fund private, for-profit hospitals. Coupled with deep cuts to health care spending, the closure and destruction of public hospitals, de-listing of insured services and contracting out on a massive scale, the risk to the system is enormous.

In British Columbia, “public private partnerships” are being pitched as the best way to upgrade services in the municipal and education sectors, and private for-profit operators are being invited to provide elder care and seniors housing. CUPE and HEU, our BC Health Services Division, are mounting a strong campaign to demonstrate that PPPs result in higher costs, reduced services and confused accountability.

Over the course of the coming years, the targets of the Public Works! campaign will change in response to both successes and newly emerging threats. But the resolve of CUPE to stand up for good jobs and public services will remain unshaken.