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The Future is Public: Democratic Ownership of the Economy

On 4-5 December 2019, 19 PSI trade unions from 14 countries gathered in Amsterdam, the Netherlands,
joining civil society organizations, local government representatives, academia and experts in  "The Future is Public: Democratic Owernship of the Economy" international conference, organized by the Transnational Institute (TNI) with the support of the city of Amsterdam.

The event gathered over 300 people who shared their experiences of remunicipalisation and of emerging new models of public service ownership and governance. The conference also discussed the role of public ownership within an alternative policy agenda with people, quality public services, people’s and workers’ democratic participation and a global green new deal at its centre.

The remunicipalisation wave is growing

New preliminary data and research released by TNI at the conference showed 1408 (re)municipalised public services between 2000-2019 in over 2400 cities in 58 countries across many sectors, including new ones such as telecommunications. This represents a considerable increase from 2017 data. Local and regional governments are increasingly stripped of power and resources under fiscal consolidation, austerity policies, and stringentinternational trade and investment rules. Yet they are on the forefront of the remunicipalisation movement.

Public services 2.0: Building the next generation of public services 

Local authorities must deliver quick, practical solutions to the concrete and urgent problems faced by their local communities - from fighting climate change to rising inequality - and need to ensure access to vital public services to their communities, including housing, water and sanitation, energy, health care, social services and education. The conference featured the experiences from many progressive, green municipalities taking back control of local public services precisely to meet such goals and to overcome privatisation’s failures to deliver quality, accessible and affordable public services.

Many of these local authorities and communities are also building new public sector democratic organisations and participative governance systems. They are exploring forms of direct democracy and advancing innovative economic models that foster inclusive socio-economic development and create decent jobs. On Public Service Day (23 June 2019), PSI drew attention to this global remunicipalisation trend.

The labour dimension of remunicipalisation brought to the fore 

Many PSI unions have direct experience of remunicipalisation and are leading the shift towards a pro-public narrative by exposing privatization failures and costs for communities and workers while setting the conditions for a private-to-public transition.

At the PSI preparatory workshop prior to the conference on 3 December, public service unions shared examples of their increasing skills in pro-remunicipalisation strategies. Yet, their specific role, challenges and experience in remunicipalisation transitions are often unknown or misunderstood, whereas addressing them is essential if in-sourcing is to be successful.

PSI unions were represented at the Amsterdam conference with contributions by CUPE (Canada), Fagforbundet (Norway), FNV (The Netherlands), GMB (UK), KPCTU (Korea), SIPTU (Ireland), as well as EPSU and PSI, amongst many other speakers and contributors

MSP's David McDonald chaired a session on worker and citizen alliances in the fight for remunicipalisation, highlighting the opportunities, successes, and challenges faced by various organizations. Citizens and workers are part of a growing global movement to reclaim and reimagine public services. You can view this session

A global social movement is building a pro-public future for all 

The conference marked a convergence point among many actors and their different agendas around a pro-public vision of the future. It followed and scaled up previous pro-public policy events, which have progressively build momentum within the trade union movement and their international allies, notably "The Future is Public: Building a pro-public movement for everyone" conference in Montréal (15-16 June 2017) and "PSI's Global Labour Remunicipalisation Workshop" in Geneva, Switzerland (4-5 December 2018).  


The orginial version of this conference summary by Daria Cibrario was first published on the Public Services International platform.