Education International and some of its affiliates were actively involved in the World Social Forum, from 24-28 March in Tunis, Tunisia, and discussed privatisation of services, including education.
The Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft(GEW), a German affiliate of Education International (EI), organised a workshop entitled “No to privatisation in education by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), and the Comprehensive Trade and Economic Agreement (CETA)” during the World Social Forum (WSF).
Several representatives from EI affiliates participated in the workshop, including EI Consultant Richard Langlois, Jean Murdock from Canadian union and EI affiliate FNEEQ-CSN, Henrique Borges of the Portuguese teachers' union and EI affiliate, FENPROF, and GEW Representative Gunter Quaisser. Deborah James from the “Our world is not for sale” network also contributed to the workshop, which was attended by approximately 80 participants.
Threat to democracy and public education
Discussions focused on the impact on education of the TTIP being negotiated between the USA and the European Union. Participants agreed that these free trade agreements should be rejected as their full implementation could threaten democracy.
Little confidence was accorded to politicians’ promises that public education would be not affected by these treaties as private education forms part of these trade agreements. In addition, it is unclear how public and private education could be separated with just one example cited as a (publicly) funded kindergarten in which (private) parental contributions are levied.
James emphasised the irreversibility of contracts signed under these agreements and the related liberalisation: once privatised, areas may not go back under municipal responsibility, as is the case for some municipal waste operators.
Murdock also reported on the negative effects for workers of the North America Free Trade Agreement, which has been implemented for many years.
Borges outlined the dangers of the TTIP in the context of the austerity policy being applied in Portugal, with both the TTIP and austerity policies representing an attack on the country's constitution, he said.
Quaisser described the growing rejection of the TTIP by both trade unions and civil society in Germany. The advantages of the proposed contracts are very limited, even in a country like Germany that is dependent on foreign trade, he said. Indeed, implementing the TTIP may lead to an increase of only 0.5 per cent in economic growth and an employment growth of just 125,000 jobs over 10 to 15 years, according to recent economic studies by the European Commission and other research institutes.
Education International’s global mobilisation against privatisation
Langlois also contributed to a workshop on the TiSA at WSF. He told participants that EI is actively monitoring the negotiations on the TiSA and related debates, in order to push for the complete exclusion of education and other public services from this agreement.
Education International is working closely with Public Services International (PSI) to conduct more research and analysis on the reasons why the TiSA is harmful to public services, he said.
There will also be an important resolution on privatisation for adoption at the next EI Congress in Ottawa, Canada, in July, Langlois highlighted. This will be a good opportunity for education unions worldwide to reaffirm their opposition to trade agreements aimed at the commercialisation and privatisation of public services, including education, he added. It will also be an opportunity to advocate for an alternative approach to trade and investment that is respectful of countries’ obligations, human rights, and the right to education, among others.
“To paraphrase Dr Antoni Verger from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the problem is not that education goes global, but that it does so under the rules of free trade and with a view to making financial profit,” Langlois concluded.