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Speech by PSI Deputy General Secretary at EI Congress

23 July, 2015
Speech delivered by David Boys, PSI Deputy General Secretary, at Education International's 7th World Congress that took place from 21-26 July 2015 in Ottawa, Canada.

Dear colleagues,

First let me congratulate you on your important congress in Ottawa and thank all of our good friends in EI for inviting PSI, for showing us all of the courtesies. 

PSI is the sister global federation to EI, representing 20 million working women and men across the broad range of public services. 

Our GS, Rosa Pavanelli asks me to bring warm greetings to all of you, and to express her regrets for not being here.

My secondary school is just down the road from here, Ecole Secondaire de la Salle.  I survived, and I think most of the teachers survived us students of the 70s.  most, but not all. 

I was fortunate that the school system in Ontario was well-funded, solid and public.

Although my dad had a decent civil service job, there were seven mouths to feed, and I am sure that he could not afford to send his five boys to privatised schools.

Those were good times.  But, those times are gone.  Now, public service workers and their unions are facing really tough times, around the world. 

The attacks against us are primarily political, backed by an increasingly powerful corporate and financial sector. 

The attacks have increased in intensity, starting with the wave of privatisations led by Margaret Thatcher, continued by Ronald Reagan, and imposed on many countries by the World Bank and the IMF. 

Although Thatcher’s main aim was to break the unions and hence the Labour party, she did demonstrate to her corporate backers that there were lots of profits to be made in privatisations – both in the transaction from public to private, where public assets were sold cheap, and lawyers and brokers made millions pushing papers,  and then companies made a fortune in privately managing essential public services, collecting the increasing tariffs from millions of captive ‘consumers’, and cutting jobs, wages and working conditions.

The World Bank and the IMF privatisation conditionalities also included (and still do include) advice to their ‘client’ governments that they should first attack and undermine the public service unions.

PSI has been fighting this infernal machine for 20-30 years. 

Our approach is:  first, do your research, know the enemy… who is behind it, what they stand to gain, their performance record, etc. 

Then, recognise that this is a political fight that can’t be won at the bargaining table.  It requires popular support. 

So unions have to educate their own members about our campaigning

And, we have to educate our national centres, who often don’t understand the implications of privatisation.

then our unions must reach out to the communities in which their members serve. 

We have to learn the language of NGOs and the media.  We need to build alliances. 

We need to stand for the common good, not just our job security, wages and working conditions. 

And when we do that, we can, and do, block the privateers. 

In fact, in PSI we are now leading a wave of 250 remunicipalisations in the water and energy sectors, turning back the tide of privatisations that didn’t work. 

However, since the 2008 financial crisis, governments use austerity budgets as an excuse to further undermine unions and sell off public services. 

Yet, strangely, they can almost instantly find billions, if not trillions to bail out the banks.  As they have done in Greece, at the expense of the people

The irony is that the proposals we are now seeing – coming from the World Bank, the OECD, the G20, and even in the UN  - will turn public infrastructure and services over to the same financial geniuses who brought us the 2008 financial crisis. 

This will be done by encouraging governments to set up a lot of privatisations at the same time, which the financial intermediaries will then bundle according to risk levels or sector or region, and sell on as derivatives or other financial products to institutional investors.  In other words, to our pension funds.

So, the privatisation of public services will be paid for by the retirement monies of workers, and mainly public service workers…  school teachers, university professors, nurses and municipal workers. 

Our pension funds will be part of this major financial manipulation. 

We will be complicit in creating new assets classes that will not only accelerate privatisations, but will also enable financial speculation in public services. 

This requires in-depth cooperation between EI and PSI, as our unions appoint trustees on pension funds with trillions of dollars in assets. 

But the corporations have a number of other tools in their kit.

PSI has been mobilising our members against the new round of so-called free trade deals.   Your Resolution 1.13 is comprehensive and the inputs yesterday were great.

These super-secret negotiations led by the corporations will not only facilitate privatisations, but will lock them in, making impossible the wave of remunicipalisations that we have been able to orchestrate. 

Parliamentarians are not allowed to see the texts before they vote on them!

These deals are a direct attack on our democracies and will further extend corporate controls over all public services. 

PSI is helping revive the alliances that were active in the Doha round of the WTO. 

We helped organise demonstrations in Australia and New Zealand, in the USA, in Europe. 

And we are training our unions to understand the implications of these deals and lobby their own governments against them. 

The corporations are also lobbying in the UN, especially to advance private investment in infrastructure.

Rosa was on her way back from Addis Ababa when I left.  She was leading a PSI delegation at the UN 3rd Financing for Development Conference.  And it looks as if the results of the conference will open the door to further private capital in public services. 

Addis was the first of three global conferences this year.  The next is the September meeting of the UN General Assembly where member states will ratify the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, which will guide national policies from 2016 until 2030. 

And the third will be the climate summit in Paris in December, which is supposed to set the planet on a course to avoid climate disaster. 

PSI will be in Paris, as we all must be.  To show the powers that be that we demand climate action, climate justice.

PSI has created a global emergencies and disasters working group, as our members are called on to risk their lives to save people and protect property. 

This is another area where we can cooperate, as teachers have huge responsibilities, both for evacuation and prevention, and post disaster or post-conflict, in refugee and settlement camps, to re-establish public services. 

On the SDGs and FFD, I am proud to say that PSI and EI are working very closely, bringing our common vision that public services are fundamental to fight inequality and that there will be no reduction of poverty without ensuring universal access to public education, health care and safe water and sanitation.

PSI and EI led the push to block these ‘new’ privatisation policies, which focus on bringing in private capital for public infrastructure. 

We published research on the dangers of PPPs, jointly held side events for government delegations and civil society allies, commented on various versions of the negotiation texts. 

Together, with our allies, we achieved some good visibility for our issues. 

The EI “Education for All” campaign has been successful in putting the universal right to education squarely on the global agenda.

We are proud to have supported your work and lobbied together.  

But, we need to do more to protect fundamental human rights, such as the right to education, health and water….

For many years, our two federations have had cooperation agreements.

Rosa and Fred recently signed an MoU to strengthen the cooperation, including in the education support sector where we share members.

The fact that two Global unions come together to defend workers under attack has not to be seen as a threat to the representativity of one or the other organization.

On the contrary, it is a matter of joining our efforts, of coordinating our actions and fighting together.   It is a matter of increasing union power!   

We have joint affiliates who face common challenges.  So we need to broaden and deepen our cooperation. 

We are proud of the achievements by PSI and EI at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, where our lobbying led to trade unions being included in the national, regional and global advisory groups to UN Women. 

We jointly led the pushback against the encroaching penetration of the private sector and market-based solutions promoted by UN Women. 

Our lobbying blocked a very poorly thought out deal between UN Women and UBER, and the agreement that unions and civil society groups will be part of the selection of private sector partners to UN Women. 

Our two federations are also collaborating on LGBTI issues, including joint planning meetings, joined up messages at key LGBTI meetings, and overall coordinated policies. 

We see that EI is working on taxation. 

The shameful behaviour of corporations who avoid paying their fair share shows just how toxic they become, as profit maximisation is the one standard that trumps all others. 

The ability to collect taxes effectively and to dispense them equitably is fundamental to ensuring universal access to quality public services. 

Union members may well ask why we are engaged in so many political battles which don’t appear to help solve collective agreements.  There are a number of reasons for that: 

One is that if we confine ourselves to our own narrow collective bargaining battles, we will eventually lose the support of the community. 

And then we won’t have the political muscle needed to make changes in the legislative and executive arenas, where the decisions are taken that affect our members’ terms and conditions. 

This is an awareness that seems well ingrained in EI affiliates, where the rights and needs of the children, the students are front and center. 

We are working to inculcate this awareness across the PSI sectors, whether in health and social services, water and sanitation, energy, local, regional and national government workers. 

But the core reason for this approach is not just to protect our members’ rights and interests, it is about ensuring that the communities in which our members live and work are healthy. 

It is about building the society that we need. 

One where workers rights are respected.

But also where there is true equality, whether between men and women, in countries north and south

Enough of this 1% dynamic, where, because of financial manipulations, a tiny group of people can take for themselves the vast majority of this planet’s resources. 

And can oppose the much-needed policies to stop the global rise in temperature, or block measures to reduce poverty. 

Rather than banks too big to fail,

our unions are too important to fail,

our members are too important to fail,

our communities are too important to fail,

Viva EI, Viva, Viva EI y PSI, Viva

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