Services for All: Citizens against the privatization of water, health and education

A hundred people from citizen based organizations from around the world gathered in Washington, DC to participate in the workshop Services for All (SFA). Sponsored by 18 organizations, SFA focused on the threat of privatization of basic services, especially water, energy, health care and education. The purposes of the "Services for All" workshop included:

Sharing experiences on the social impacts of service privatization. These included price hikes and limited access that exclude poor people and increase the burden of women. Case studies from every continent showed how the promises of greater efficiency and equity could evaporate in the face of profit-maximizing incentives and poor regulation.

Revealing mechanisms through which privatization is imposed on sovereign governments. Special emphasis was given to lending conditionalities of the World Bank and IMF, rules of the WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the non-transparent, anti-democratic processes that enable these organizations to circumvent citizen participation and analytical scrutiny, and the institutional linkages between the multilateral lending and trade agendas.

Ending the information monopoly of the Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO. Participants with technical expertise exposed flawed analysis and selective evidence used by these organizations to justify an ideological agenda backed primarily by large corporations. The sponsors distributed a tremendous amount of research that challenges the assumptions, methodologies and policy conclusions of privatization enthusiasts.

Exploring alternative approaches to reforming basic services. A major philosophical approach was human rights, which rejects the radical neoliberal paradigm in which basic services are simply another market commodity. Pragmatic discussions focused on concrete ways to improve efficiency and equity of state-run services.

Developing a strategy to roll back the privatization agenda. Two themes stood out. The first was the need for much greater communication and coordination among organizations focusing on the Bretton Woods institutions, WTO, and grass roots mobilization at the local and national level. The second was the importance of targeting messages to specific audiences and enlisting the support of as-yet untapped political constituencies in campaigns to protect basic services.

The SFA Proceedings capture highlights of the many presentations that participants contributed to the workshop, as well as some of the discussion that followed. These are followed by a series of annexes of short articles that elaborate on many of the issues and challenges identified during the event.

They can be found at