In a context of social, health, economic and climate crisis, more than 400 people from all over the world gathered in social movements, NGOs and global unions such as Public Services International (PSI) decided to meet in Santiago de Chile from November 29 to December 2 at the Our Future is Public Conference to seek alternatives to the crossroads humanity is living through. Universal and Quality Public Services was the answer
From education and health to care, energy, food, housing, water, transport and social protection, four days of discussions were held to address the harmful effects of the commercialization of public services, demand democratic public control and re-imagine a truly egalitarian and human rights-oriented economy that works for people and the planet. In addition, there was agreement on the demand for universal access to quality public services, equitable and transformative of unequal gender relations as the basis for a just and equitable society.
The opening of the Conference was presided over by PSI General Secretary, Rosa Pavanelli, and by the Director of the Global Initiative for Social, Cultural and Economic Rights (GI-ESCR), Magdalena Sepúlveda. Both stressed the importance of the centrality of public services in making human rights and democracy possible, and the role of those who work in them, such as front-line workers.
Rosa Pavanelli PSI General Secretary
The alliance that we want to consolidate at this Conference must affirm that public service workers deserve decent working conditions and salaries.
"The alliance that we want to consolidate in this Conference has to affirm that public service workers deserve decent working conditions and salaries, they deserve trade union rights in all countries, because trade union rights are human rights", Pavanelli pointed out while stressing that "our future is public" is a hopeful title, which affirms the need to change the neoliberal economic model.
"We want to return to the fundamental principles of democracy, to the responsibility of the state in the defense and valuation of common goods, in defining priorities in the general interest and in promoting an economic growth oriented to social and human development, to a collective progress rather than to an economic growth that exploits labor and natural resources without respect for people and planet", he emphasized.
Finally, he stressed that public workers are the backbone of quality public services, they are the guardians of the independence and impartiality of the public system, they are the radar that first perceives the changes in society.
The social reorganization of care
Among the sectoral meetings of the Our Future is Public Conference was the one on care, organized by PSI. It is no secret that current care systems are unbalanced and that the greatest burden is borne by women. The inequality and unsustainability of this structure has led to the exhaustion of caregivers, as the lack of recognition and remuneration generates an invisible contribution, on which the state relies, explained Huma Hag, care social services organizer at Public Services International (PSI).
Although for years feminist organizations, trade unions and civil society have been discussing how to move towards a public care system, currently the role of the state is very small and the private sector has a lot of control. "Care is a job, it is a job that has dignity and is necessary, and integrated services are needed around it," said the head of PSI's Local and Regional Services, Daria Cibrario, and for this reason a system of care that really cares must be financed.
Among the conclusions of the comparative experiences of countries around the world, she emphasized one point in particular: claiming territoriality. "In the international municipal movement, in which municipal unions we are part of, there is the concept of the right to the city that does include the right to care." The problem is that most countries have the responsibility for care in the territorial sphere, but it is poorly managed. The externalization and privatization of public services has fostered inequality and inequity, and those who have had to take charge of inequity are the municipalities or local governments. Therefore, sizing and budgeting territoriality can be a good alternative to achieve a caring care system.
Feminist Alternatives and Gender Transformative Public Services
A prominent panel within the conference took place on the fourth and last day of the Conference. Called "Feminist Alternatives and Gender Transformative Public Services" the panel brought together more than 100 people in the Central Hall of the La Moneda Cultural Center, and was moderated by PSI and Nodo XXI researcher, Camila Miranda. The event brought together women who, from their different realities, emphasized the importance of the care system and coined ideas to achieve it.
The Director of GI-ESCR, Magdalena Sepúlveda, indicated that the distribution of work according to gender impacts women in the enjoyment of their human rights, and that one solution to this problem is to incorporate the 5R's proposed by PSI: recognize the social value of care, reward it with social protection, reduce unpaid care, redistribute the burden between the family, the State and private parties, and vindicate the public nature of care with progressive and fair oversight. She also pointed out that "one way to increase fiscal space is to tax the super-rich and corporations, and greater social investment. We are not dreaming here, the means exist".
Rosa Pavanelli PSI General Secretary
"public services play a transformative role in society"
"We share the responsibility," said PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli, because progress depends on political will, but also on the workers. It is important that public services become involved in the transforming role, since they have been an example of establishing better social conditions and in the regulation of the market. Thus, it is imperative that they de-feminize care, that they aim at green and sustainable work and that, above all, they ensure sexual and reproductive rights for women, and dignity for the LGTBIQ+ community: "public services play a transformative role in society, ensuring services that can guarantee women's sexual and reproductive rights. If we are not going to guarantee these rights in public services, it will be more difficult to change the realities in countries where these issues are taboo," she said.
Following this instance and as a continuation of the panel, in the Enrique Sazié Hall of the University of Chile, a workshop on feminist alternatives was held, moderated by the PSI Equality Officer, Verónica Montúfar, Nasheli Noriega, from OXFAM and Ana Clara Cathalat, from GI-ESCR. The participants discussed climate, fiscal and wage justice, gender violence, and feminist and decolonial approaches, in order to draw a plenary with the points of convergence, with the aim of moving towards public services with a gender approach.
The conclusions drawn from the plenary, at the level of all the groups and independent of the specific topic, are that the absence of public services delays the projection of women in paid work, that it is essential to break the wage inequality and that it is important that they are placed at all levels, both locally, regionally and globally. In addition, it is urgent to look at the tense relationship between public services that promote life and those that threaten it, since their absence deepens violence against those who use or depend on them.
The participants also indicated that, in order to achieve an integral and harmonious care system, it must be related to the protection of flora and fauna - in other words, to the principles of ecofeminism - but with the understanding that not only women care. They also pointed out the importance of having public services with decolonial approaches, which are strong to ensure the progress of the people, equitable and egalitarian, and which always have ILO Convention 190 as a window of opportunity against the eradication of violence.
The environmental crisis affects public services and their workers
Also on the last day of the Conference, David Boys, PSI Deputy General Secretary moderated the panel on Climate Justice at the La Moneda Cultural Center, which brought together Ericka Ñanco, the first Mapuche national deputy from the Araucanía region of Chile, Sebastian Berger, Executive Director of the Global Student Forum, Ndivile Mokoena, climate and gender activist and advocate working with GenderCC Southern Africa in South Africa, and Rodrigo Uprimny, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice and Society.
"The Mapuche are people of the land, and that is why we have always protected the land. Water, for example, is a universal human right and how is it possible that in Chile water is not a universal human right," Erica told the plenary. Mokoena argued that the climate crisis is leading Africa into a severe food crisis.
The PSI representative and moderator of the event recalled that this is also a trade union issue and must be present in negotiations to protect public service workers. "We need to protect ourselves against climate change. We have to figure out as unions how to negotiate for ourselves in this context. And we certainly need to invest in public services to be able to respond to climate crises," said David Boys.
David Boys Deputy general secretary
"We need to protect ourselves against climate change"
The Santiago Declaration
Hundreds of voices of different colors and nuances were heard, and many hands wrote the basis of the draft of the Santiago Declaration, finally exposed as a closing. The meeting became an opportunity to see and listen to those who do not share the same realities, in order to find the similarities that allow us to walk hand in hand toward a public future.
There is still work to be done, what has been linked must not be untied and what has been advanced cannot be taken back. As the participants affirmed, it was clear that "when we unite and fight together, we win".