From Socialist Voice, April 2007

SIPTU takes a stand on the privatisation of water

It is a welcome and a critical change for the labour movement to be taking up issues not related merely to the bread and butter of trade unionism, such as wages and conditions, and to begin to campaign on other issues that have an impact on workers and their families and communities.
     The most recent announcement by SIPTU is that it is launching a campaign to stop the privatisation of water. The union launched its campaign to mark World Water Day by expressing its concerns about the creeping privatisation of water services. A number of water treatment plants run by private companies have been built under “public-private partnership” (PPP).
     “World consumption of water is set to double every twenty years, while at the same time water sources are being polluted, diverted, and depleted,” said SIPTU’s national campaigns organiser, Anne Speed. “We are concerned that the continuing involvement of the private sector in infrastructural development will encourage an approach which treats water as a private commodity, to be sold off to the highest bidder.
     “There is undoubtedly a preferred option among many in government circles to extend the involvement of the private sector in water supply, development, and maintenance,” she said.
     SIPTU has written to TDs and county and city councillors to seek meetings at which the union and its local authority water services members will describe their concern at the growing involvement of the private sector in this area. They will spell out how the unfettered privatisation of water would result in very negative economic and social consequences for local authority employees, the taxpayer, and the citizen.
     “There is an abundance of evidence to show that the privatisation of water and waste-water facilities will not yield huge financial savings to the exchequer, as some have claimed, but may well lead to the delivery of a poor-quality water supply. Private operators—who are driven by the profit motive—may not hesitate to take short-cuts where costs of treatment and processing are concerned,” SIPTU said.
     “On this day—World Water Day—it is appropriate that we launch this demand that any new developments in water services be retained in public ownership.”
     It is important that other trade unions should take up this important issue. By campaigning on a whole range of issues they will bring trade unions back to their roots and see the rights of workers in a wider context.
     Such a campaign also has the potential to build links and to engage with the tens of thousands of workers who do not belong to a trade union and to show them the power of being union members.

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