A major challenge for proponents of public alternatives is the question of how to finance them. After a year’s work, TNI published a widely appreciated book, ‘Public Finance for the Future We Want’, accompanied by a video, infographics, an executive summary and policy recommendations for wide dissemination purposes. With the production of this resource, the programme has achieved the five-year goal it set itself with a solid body of viable and feasible proposals produced. It is now a question of putting these ideas into movement.
TNI’s Public Alternatives programme works to build a strong countervailing force that reverses privatization and helps construct democratic, effective, and universally accessible public services. Strategies include the promotion of public-public partnerships, partnerships between public companies and community cooperatives, making visible stories of success. TNI supports struggles in specific countries, providing international perspectives, network linkages, mutual learning opportunities and reflections on democratic political practice as a necessary precondition for public alternatives. We also provide resources of common value to the movements, translated into many languages and accompanied by popular materials.
In 2019, there was a high demand for TNI resources from Japanese activists concerned that new laws allow private financing of water services. The Japanese edition of our book, Reclaiming Public Services, which presents the latest trend towards re-muncipalisation, attracted significant media attention and became an important reference among the opposition politicians during parliamentary debates. In the city of Hamamatsu, the mayor abandoned his proposal to privatise drinking water after 600 residents gathered to express their opposition to the plan.
In Nigeria, TNI supported the organization of a national water summit in Abuja by trade union and environmental partners. The summit was attended by 150 people, including relevant policymakers and garnered coverage by 20 national newspapers. We also continued to work with South African trade unions and environmental organizations on the complex question of the threatened unbundling of the beleaguered national energy utility – widely perceived as a precursor to privatization – and how to achieve a just transition away from the country’s dependence on fossil fuels while also addressing questions of energy poverty as well as broader issues of inequality and democratisation. The process produced remarkable unity between unions in competing federations, as well as with key environmental organisations.
In Latin America, TNI provided ongoing support to the Platform for Public Community Agreements of the Americas (PAPC), which fosters community-public partnerships on water. PAPC involved 52 organisations from 6 countries in mutual learning exchanges, including associations of community aqueducts, trade unions, social and environmental organizations concerned with strengthening community water management and the defence of water as a common good and fundamental human right. TNI also continued to support the public sector union of Calí (Colombia) in their successful struggle against the privatization of the telecommunications section of their company. The company subsequently signed a public-public partnership with a strong Uruguayan counterpart, with which TNI has had historical relations at both union and company level.
On the European front, TNI participates in mPower, a collaborative project led by the University of Glasgow, which involves peer-to-peer learning among 100 European municipalities. It is aimed at achieving large scale, replicable success in respect of energy democracy and just transitions. In 2019, mPower provided a bespoke peer learning programme for 27 local authorities, as well as seven in-person trainings, with 6 municipalities subsequently declared a climate emergency. TNI coordinated dissemination of the best practices which emerged from these encounters.
We also co-organized a second regional Eastern European New Politics seminar in Prague in 2019. This resulted in plans for an ongoing project to reflect on Eastern European democratic imaginaries since 1989, expected to consolidate the network in the region.
TNI engaged with the UK Labour Party’s National Policy Forum on public ownership of water and energy, provided a study of Portugal’s radical anti-austerity programmes, and facilitated input from Paris’ public water utility that was brought back under public management 10 years prior.
The year ended with a major international conference on democratic ownership of the economy co-organized by TNI, De 99 van Amsterdam – a new think tank supported by the City – and 16 international partners. Held in a mosque and Ghanaian church in a marginalized neighbourhood of Amsterdam, the conference was attended by 332 people from 35 countries, including municipalities, trade unions, researchers, sector professionals, politicians, journalists, campaign organisations, and philanthropic foundations. The conference provided a much appreciated space for alliance-building among diverse advocates and movements, as well as empowerment for the host communities. It resulted in a half-hour broadcast of the Laura Flanders show in the USA, extended collaboration with the University of Glasgow to jointly build an interactive global database of (re)municipalisation as a public resource, and plans for a follow-up conference in Amsterdam in 2020.
The conference culminated with the second annual Transformative Cities awards, broadcast live and followed by audiences in 11 countries. 34 submissions from 24 countries were documented by journalists, and added to the Atlas of Utopias; short-lists were developed by an international panel and were subject to popular voting by 11,000 people mobilized by local groups vying for support. The winning entries gained publicity in their own countries affirming their efforts and empowering their advocacy on universal water access, housing for all, democratic energy transitions, and sustainable food systems.
The key results to which TNI contributed significantly in 2019 include:
- Hamamatsu (Japan) abandoned plans to privatise drinking water. TNI’s remunicipalisation book received widespread media coverage and became an important reference in parliamentary debates.
- The Abuja (Nigeria) National Water Summit was organized and covered by 20 national newspapers.
- The ailing Calí public utility signs a public-public partnership in respect of its telecommunications section with a successful counterpart in Uruguay.
- 52 organisations from 6 countries in Latin America engaged in peer learning on community-managed water systems.
- The Atlas of Utopias attracted 19,000 unique visitors and 11,000 people participated in the voting for the Transformative Cities awards.
- South African unions across two competing federations, as well as key environmental groups, united in opposition to privatization of the national power company and for a just energy transition.
- 27 European municipalities participate in mPower mutual learning on just energy transitions, and 6 declare a climate emergency.