Friday, July 18, 2008

Well not exactly. The following article from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) tells about how many communities worldwide are fighting back against the privatization of public utilities such as water supply and waste disposal. It also tells about how many communities, fed up with the profiteering, inequity and inefficiency of such private companies are taking back water supply into municipal control.
Molly has to admit to conflicting feelings on this matter. It is certain that any decent society has an obligation to provide the necessities of life to all members of that society, and it is also certain that the best way to provide such necessities is via collective enterprise. In the anarchist tradition this may be municipal/community (the classic anarchist communist solution), syndicalist (the anarchosyndicalist solution) or cooperative (the mutualist solution). At the present time only the first and the third solutions have living examples to point to, and these examples are mired in the statist and market economy matrix in which we live. All of these models have things to recommend them and also problems with their implementation.
The idea of "remunicipalizing" such enterprises is what the following article talks about. All this would be fair and good, but it begs the question "what sort of municipality". One branch of the "anarchist family", formerly known as "libertarian municipalists" and now as "communalists" feel that this is the proper way to go to build a free and just society. They claim that local government is, at least theoretically, amenable to democratic control while larger forms of government are not. Whatever somebody like Chomsky might say Molly thinks that history has proven the latter contention to be 150% right. As to the municipality, well all that I can say is that it depends upon which municipality we are talking about. In some cases, such as that of Paris, such a municipality is far less likely to afford opportunities for true democracy than a large number of smaller countries are.
Then there is the matter of "the market" or, more broadly, how are things going to be paid for. Molly is not a dogmatist in terms of economics. She thinks that a free, anarchist society will have a number of economic forms operating side by side, but she also thinks that basic necessities should be provided communally, and preferably "free". How much is this possible ? It depends upon agreement in society in general to subsidize the provision of such services. In an anarchist society such agreement would have to be voluntarily obtained, not enforced by the state as it is today (can we say "taxes ?). Boy, that's a lot of negotiation !
In the interum, before the "dawning of the millennium" we are left with the societies that we live in today. Molly's preference for the provision of such services in the here and now is the cooperative/mutualist method. This method partakes of the advantages of both the government and the private models, and it reduces the disadvantages of each. Governments can indeed be inefficient and bureaucratic, but so can private enterprise- in spades. I also think that the history of privatizations under neo-conservative governments shows very plainly that the idea that this will result in "lower costs to the consumer" is just as much an ideological lie as the leftist contention that "socialists" in power will result in greater equality.
In the here and now what do we do ? I think that it is generally (but not always) a good idea to oppose privatization where the product is an essential of civilized life, or life period. In the "plus and minus" balance municipal control (and, less frequently control by larger units of government) is best for the end user of these services in both a cost and benefit sense. I would prefer that there were more cooperative alternatives and that the municipal entities were far more democratic than they are today, but that is not the situation we are in, merely the goal of decades of struggle on the part of an anarchism that has a clear vision of where it wants to go. The opposition to privatization is not, I have to emphasize, "anarchism". It is merely a stop gap measure that is best at this time. The illusion that it represents an "anarchist program" should be deflated. It is "anarchist tactics" at best, in the hope that we can put something better forward in the future.
But enough of my lecturing. Here is the article. Check out the links to the Transnational Institute and the Corporate Europe Observatory. Very valuable resources.

Water systems going public around the globe:
A new web site is tracking the growing number of communities around the globe that are reversing privatization and taking back control of their water systems.

The Transnational Institute and Corporate Europe Observatory launched the water remunicipalization tracker last month. The site is a database of successful campaigns to end privatization of water and wastewater systems. Paris is the latest city in the rising tide of remunicipalizations.

In June, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë pulled the plug on contracts with two of the largest water multinationals, ending a century of privatization. Water services will return to full public control when the contracts with Suez and Veolia expire Dec. 31, 2009.

Other communities in France are rising up against the profiteering of private water corporations, following the lead of Grenoble citizens, who took back their water in 2000.

The multinationals aren’t just on the run in France – they database shows they are in trouble on virtually every continent. The web site aims to help public water advocates share experiences and lessons learned.

CUPE added the story of Hamilton’s water fight to the database. Hamilton’s water and wastewater services were brought back in house in 2005, and have scored top marks for performance and cost savings ever since, including the elimination of nearly $600,000 in ‘incentive payments’ that a private contractor would have received if it had been able to deliver the same high level of service as the public operator.

Other community water and wastewater systems where privatization was prevented from taking hold – including Kamloops, Whistler, Vancouver and Halifax, are also shining as public operations.

These public water developments lend fresh momentum to ongoing water fights in Canada, where federal and provincial pressure to privatize is forcing P3s on local governments.

CUPE is working to stop a new water treatment system in Saint John, New Brunswick from being privatized through a public private partnership (P3). The union is also part of a coalition campaigning to keep Victoria, British Columbia’s new sewage treatment system public.

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