Twenty seven million Italians said No to the sell off the country’s water in a nationwide referendum this summer. But five months after this overwhelming popular rejection of privatisation, it is as if it never happened.
The referendum revoked the law that requires an increasing share of local public services be handed over to the private sector and another that allowed tariffs to provide for a guaranteed 7% profit (or return on capital invested the private operator). But the legislation remains on the statute book.
Worse, in August, as part of a package of debt-cutting and “liberalising” measures demanded by European authorities and the European Central Bank a further push was given to the privatisation of local public services.
Italy’s new unelected ‘tecnocrat’ premier Mario Monti, the former European Commissioner and champion of competition who took over from Silvio Berlusconi earlier this month, has indicated he expects these market-friendly measures to be implemented in full, and has so far refused to respond to calls by campaigners to respect the will of the Italian people.
Local politicians, meanwhile, are continuing to open up water services to privateers via public-private partnerships. This, despite local opposition and much evidence to suggest that private capital and management has not made them more efficient than the public sector or delivered better prices. Indeed, in some cases users are being charged more for a worse service.
Today thousands will descend on Rome to defend a say enough to the sell off of what campaigners call a “common good”. And they will launch a campaign of “civil obedience” – the respect of the democratic decisions of the people and of the law.
“The water people are returning to fill the streets of Rome to say again loud and clear that we will not accept this attack on democracy,” declared in a statement the Italian Forum of Water Movements, an alliance of trade unions and civil society organisations that, in the face of opposition from the mass media and the political class, mounted a massive campaign to gather the 500,000 signatures needed to trigger a referendum (in fact it obtained 1 million) – and then went on to secure the backing of an absolute majority of Italians in the vote in June.
Criticising the ‘the big media groups’ for their ‘deafening silence on the issue’ the Forum is launching a national campaign of ‘civil obedience’ that will ‘obey the mandate of the Italian people’. It will work towards reducing tariffs and bring back into full public ownership water services including in cities like Turin, Milan, Venice and Palermo.
Privatisation ‘paradigm’ of global crisis
The Forum says that water privatisation is a ‘paradigm of wider problems linked to the global crisis’.
It calls for change in direction. It wants an end to deficit-cutting policies that undermine the public sector and open it up to ever more marketisation and an end to the weakening of labour rights that are combining to ‘make society more precarious’ and ‘reduce space for [the functioning of] democracy’.
>>> Investment in Italy’s water industry, with its guaranteed returns, has been object of huge interest by multinationals like France’s Suez. More in the Revolting Europe blog on the June referendum and water privatisation in Italy