Privatization efforts—and the fights against them—happen all over. Because of that, I do a lot of traveling to talk (and listen) about it, mostly all over the United States. But, of course, privatization is a problem not just in the US (readers of ITPI’s invaluable weekly media scan, the Privatization Report newsletter, will note the number of items marked “international”).
I was recently invited to present on a panel about the topic at the Public Services International (PSI) Congress which takes place next week in Geneva, Switzerland. PSI is a global federation of public sector unions, and the congress will include representatives from 130 countries. I leave Saturday.
It’s a long flight from my Los Angeles home, so I took the opportunity to make this a two-week learning trip and set up meetings elsewhere in Europe. (And I’ll go to a concert in Scotland of one of my favorite artists, Karine Polwart—while we’re trying to build the world we want, I think we should also enjoy the good in the one we have now.) My itinerary includes meetings with unions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academics, and activists in London, Oxford, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. People in the U.K. are facing the same challenges we are, among them austerity, disinvestment in public education, and threats to privatize goods and service that have long been part of the commons.
I’ve been following issues and politics in the UK for many years, and I think we have a lot to learn from them. The British turn towards privatization started earlier and was more vigorous than ours in the Thatcher era and there is currently some backlash. But while the National Health Service (NHS) is still popular, budget cuts and lack of investment are setting the stage for increasing privatization. Just recently, we covered in this space the disastrous Thames Water privatization debacle in a guest column UK NGO Economic Change Unit. And public education there is experiencing some of the same troubling trends that we’ve been facing here in the US.
There are a few things I hope to learn during my trip. How are those who seek to keep the commons in common hands making their case? Do they have strategies we can use? What has worked? What have they found doesn’t work? There are different policies, different politics, and different responsibilities of local governments, along with organizing and movement efforts, that I hope to learn about also.
I’ll report back but, for now, please let me know if there are particular issues that I should include as learning objectives and opportunities. And, of course, let me know if you’ve got any interesting recommendations for my visit.