Trade unionists from around the world made their mark at the fifth World Water Forum, and are leaving Istanbul with stronger and broader connections to the global water justice movement. They exposed the forum’s bankrupt agenda of privatization, and are demanding that policies about water be decided in a transparent, open and participatory space.
CUPE 1978 member Kim Manton and general vice-president Kevin Rebeck were among the 55-person Public Services International delegation attending the fifth World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey this week. The forum, a trade fair for the privateers, is organized by the unelected and unaccountable World Water Council. High registration fees and a tightly-controlled agenda mean grassroots voices are all but frozen out.
The PSI delegation members, many of them water workers, intervened at the official forum to challenge the pro-privatization messages that dominated the event. Their work helped turn public solutions – relegated to ‘side events’ at the forum – into the main event. They also deepened their connections with the many environmental, indigenous and social justice groups brought their struggles to Istanbul.
Manton says the week has left her moved, inspired and motivated. “I can’t wait to get home so that I can share the global water struggle. I promise to take Hasan’s story of his arrest in the protest on Monday to Canada. I know that when Virginia turns the tap on in Soweto and no water comes out, she will not feel alone,” she says. “I am committed to take the international fight back home and ensure that this trip builds new connections. Happy World Water Day! Water Warriors Unite!”
Rebeck says “There is no more basic fight around the world today than the fight for access to water. Our arguments for accountable, community controlled public water and sanitation keep growing stronger, as the examples of private sector failure pile up. We need to continue the push and support our global partners where communities and workers are dying. Together we can win this battle.”
Manton and Rebeck joined other PSI members at three separate alternative forum events, including an international People’s Water Forum that drew nearly 700 people. The event showcased success stories of public and community-led water governance structures, the application of local indigenous water conservation techniques and other alternatives to the models of large-scale water privatization and high technology solutions promoted by the World Water Forum.
Over the course of the week, nightly activist meetings allowed workers and the broader movement to strategize, share, and support each other. The sometimes-raucous meetings have forged many friendships and alliances.
Speaking at a major labour-NGO press conference yesterday, PSI utilities officer David Boys summed up PSI’s participation at the forum. “The divide remains deep, between the people who want quality water and sanitation and the bankers and corporations who control the World Water Council. Their vision is the same one that brought us the financial crisis – a shrinking government, unregulated markets and corporate profits. Our vision is governments that deliver quality public services, financed by fair taxation, with decisions made under conditions of transparency, accountability and participation. The divide has not been bridged here in Istanbul.”
CUPE worked closely with its Canadian allies, the Council of the Canadians and the Polaris Institute, over the week.
“It is becoming increasingly evident that the World Water Forum and everything it represents is a cause of the world water crisis and not the solution,” says Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians chairperson and senior advisor to the President of the UN General Assembly. “The World Water Forum is morally bankrupt, financially bankrupt and bankrupt of ideas.”