Unions around the globe leading the fight against privatization | National Union of Public and General Employees

Unions around the globe leading the fight against privatization

Labour groups playing key role in blocking private corporate takeover of key public services demanded by World Bank and IMF


Brussels (23 April 2006) - The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) says unions are among the main groups leading the fight – and winning victories globally –against privatization demands imposed by international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.

"There is a growing consensus within global civil society that, despite having improved processes for consulting civil society, the IMF and World Bank operate with little input from the public when it comes to major economic policy changes," the ICFTU says.

"In country after country, these institutions have imposed conditions on their lending that force indebted governments to propose programs that are based not on domestic needs but on the IFIs (international financial institutions) allegiance to the ideology of free markets and privatization."

However, labour unions and their allies in Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia are at last beginning to win some important victories over the private interests represented by IFIs when they seek to impose private corporate control over water, electricity and other basic services, the organization says.

Six countries, six big victories

  • The ICFTU has just released a paper detailing six major victories around the world. They include the following examples:
  • Uruguay - Following a national referendum in which voters rejected water privatization by a two-thirds majority, the government of Uruguay set an example for the rest of the world by amending its constitution in 2004 to prevent private control of water and to declare it "a fundamental human right."
  • South Africa - Trade unions led the opposition to the privatization of the country’s largest freight rail line and negotiated with the government to keep the reorganized line in public hands.
  • Croatia - Five labour federations set aside their differences to rally opposition to an IMF-World Bank proposal for labour reform designed to make it easier for employers to fire workers.
  • Argentina - The government, backed by its labour unions, cancelled privatization of the national postal service, which had been turned over to a private company at the behest of the World Bank and the IMF.
  • Indonesia - The nation’s constitutional court ruled against the IMF-backed privatization of a major utility after labour unions and civil society groups filed a lawsuit contesting the government’s right to privatize the utility.
  • Tanzania - The government cancelled a water privatization project, also demanded by the IMF and World Bank, with the strong support of the trade union at the water utility.

These and other cases discussed in the ICFTU report illustrate how local unions and national trade union centres have waged successful campaigns in their own countries against the IFIs.

The international trade union movement, too, has achieved important victories in pushing the IFIs to adopt policies that are more favourable to working people and the poor.
The final two chapters of this report discuss these successes, examining how the global trade union movement brought the issue of core labour standards to the IFIs, as well as the labour movement’s role in the international campaign for debt relief.

In Canada, the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has been one of the most active voices working to save basic public services from takeover by the profit-motivated private sector. NUPGE is the second-largest union in Canada. NUPGE