The future is public

Since 2020, we have collaborated with diverse international human rights, development, debt and finance organisations in developing a collective vision and laying the groundwork for a strong broad-based movement to demand public services. The result of an extensive global consultation process, The Future is Public: Global Manifesto for Public Services offers a concrete alternative to the dominant neoliberal narrative that has failed to ensure a dignified life for all. The Manifesto, which has been translated into seven languages, has been endorsed by 199 civil society organisations and networks. At an online launch event, eight former and current UN Special Rapporteurs and regional human rights experts welcomed the Manifesto and encouraged us to continue advocating for democratising public services. The event was attended by over 500 people. TNI co-led the global coordination team and co-organised regional workshops in Europe and the Middle East-North Africa region to develop the manifesto.

Meanwhile, our database shows that the tide is turning away from neoliberalism. A collaborative initiative with the University of Glasgow, the database includes over 1,500 cases of (re)municipalisation of services and/or infrastructure. Some two-hundred and fifty people, including policy and sector professionals, organisations and academics, attended the online launch event, organised together with Public Services International (PSI). In a new reportcommissioned by the City of Amsterdam, we conducted a systematic review of 80 public alternatives and 10 in-depth case studies of public-community collaborations to draw lessons about how such collaborations can deliver essential services and goods in cities, and serve as alternatives to private-public partnerships and outsourcing. PSI, in its own briefing paper on the topic of democratic governance in local public services, drew heavily on the TNI report.

The Future is Public narrative and database are being picked up widely. PSI and its member unions have used ‘public futures’ information and messages to advocate for de-privatisation and in-sourcing of local services. Unions in France, Australia, the UK, Italy and Ireland, to name a few, are leading national and regional in-sourcing campaigns targeting local councils and as part of election campaign strategies. In September, at the Local and Regional Government (LRG) Workers Network Series 2021, 70 trade unions leaders discussed re-municipalisation as an opportunity and strategy forthe de-commodification of the commons and to shape the mission of public services for the people, planet and public health.

Toward a new politics and a just transition

TNI is facilitating important conversations and analysis about emancipatory politics and a radical, comprehensive just transition. Over five days of stimulating and inspiring discussion, some 800 people from 83 countries explored questions about the state, social class, social movements and political parties, feminism and intersectional politics, eco-socialism and much more during our New Politics Conference 2021, co-organised with the Havens Wright Center for Social Justice. The conference, which featured 46 panellists in 11 sessions, made a profound theoretical contribution to many of the most pertinent debates facing the left internationally.

We also hosted the first meeting on a Just Transition Across the Rural-Urban Spectrum, which brought together social movements, activist scholars and others with the goal of inspiring new coalitions for a just transition that go beyond traditional organised labour. To that end, as part of the COP26 Coalition’s online ‘From The Ground Up II conference’ organised in the run-up to the UN climate talks, we co-organised the panel discussion, ‘Farmers are essential workers: Building coalitions around land, farming and food struggles.’ The session, which explained how climate justice and food sovereignty are ultimately the same fight, attracted about 140 activists, one of the best attended breakout sessions at the conference. We also contributed significantly to research and analysis on a just transition in North Africa  and were invited to share our vision of a radical, anti-imperialist and feminist just transition at the Pre-Congress Workshop of the 4th Congress of the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas, attended by some 80 unionists.

Energy, water, and agriculture

A comprehensive just transition requires radical change across all sectors. Together with Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED), we are building the case for democratically controlled public ownership and management of the energy sector. In a joint report we demonstrated in no uncertain terms how neoliberal policies in pursuit of endless growth and capitalist accumulation have resulted in an energy expansion, rather than an energy transition. The report, which was published and promoted in webinars around the COP26, debunked the myth that the transition to a low carbon world is well underway, and underlined the urgency of a public alternative. Following the report, TUED and its member unions published a common vision and policy recommendations for a public, low-carbon energy future.

Research in collaboration with Platform Authentieke Journalistiek focused on how the liberalized, private energy market in the Netherlands has undermined an equitable energy transition at the expense of low-income residents. The report, which was embraced by Dutch unions and climate justice allies, outlined democratic alternatives for the energy transition and helped strengthen the call for democratic ownership.

TNI plays a key role in facilitation of peer-to-peer learning among European cities on the topic of fair, clean and democratic energy. As part of mPower, a consortium of seven European universities and organisations, we supported local authorities in ten cities to share their experiences on a European platform, and advocate internally and European-wide to democratise energy. Under the auspices of the M2M Solidarity project, we supported local low-carbon initiatives in Hungary and Ireland to work together and explore how to build collective action based on solidarity and European shared values. Our Transformative Cities People’s Choice Award drew attention to the incredible variety of transformative initiatives at the municipal level worldwide, including in the area of energy. An award granted to the town of Burgas, in Bulgaria – a country with severe energy poverty – for its efforts to improve energy efficient housing helped to magnify the project’s impact, drawing praise from the country’s Energy Minister, which was echoed by Bulgarian mayors, MEPs, and public officials.

“Due to its active and effective green policy, Burgas won the award in the Transformative Cities initiative in the energy sector last year, as a good example in the implementation of solutions related to economic, social, political and environmental challenges.”
– Bulgarian Energy Minister Temenujka Petkova

TNI also collaborates with partners worldwide to ensure democratic, inclusive management and control of water, and to resist attempts to put water in the hands of corporations. This year, we supported long-term partner Platform for Public Community Partnerships of the Americas (PAPC) to bring together women community water leaders to discuss the social and political participation of women in the community management of water. PAPC organised a series of four workshops, tours, and an inter-municipal meeting of municipal water managers, strengthening the capacity of women leaders and their connections to other women leaders in community water management. In Africa, partner Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) facilitated a mobilisation of civil society organisations and trade unions in eight African countries against water privatisation. The groups developed a pan-African strategy and common messages for the Africa Week of Action Against Water Privatisation, an important step in preparation for the World Water Forum, which takes place in Senegal in 2023.

In Latin America, TNI was pleased to support the newly established Local Government Studies Institute (IGLO) of the Universidad Abierta de Recoleta (UAR) in Chile. The Institute provided systematic online education on how cities can manage public goods (land, green space, food, culture, housing, water, energy) and services, designed for public servants and officials in Chile and across Latin America. UAR and TNI jointly organised two webinars on water and care in the context of Chile’s constitutional reform process and debates. The collaboration helped lay the groundwork for a major conference on reclaiming public services, to be held in Chile in 2022.