Public service unions and allies reclaim public services back in-house

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 “The Future is Public: Democratic Ownership of the Economy” international conference, organized by the Transnational Institute (TNI) with the support of the city of Amsterdam.

PSI unions prepared their contribution prior to “The Future is Public Conference” on 3 December 2019 in Amsterdam (the Netherlands). The workshop benefitted from the support of the host union FNV Overheid.

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.


PSI at the Future is Public Conference

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.

These were highlighted in the contributions PSI unions made to the Amsterdam conference. Representatives from CUPE (Canada), Fagforbundet (Norway), FNV (The Netherlands), GMB (UK), KPCTU (Korea), SIPTU (Ireland) as well as EPSU and PSI spoke in the conference panels, with many more contributing to the debate.

From the left: Ingrid Buset (Fagforbundet-Norway), Adrian Kane (SIPTU-Ireland), Mirtha Noguer Arias (STMA-Paraguay), Robert Ramsay (CUPE-Canada), Wol-san Liem (KCPTU-Korea)

CUPE organised a public discussion on the role of pension funds in public infrastructure privatisation.

PSI unions authored 4 chapters of the new TNI book; the printed version will be released in 2020.

PSI’s sister union the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) joined in bringing in the transport dimension to advance a pro-public agenda.

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”, Montréal (Canada) conference, 15-16 June 2017 and PSI’s Global Labour Remunicipalisation Workshop, 4-5 December 2018, Geneva (Switzerland).

PSI work on remunicipalisation continues in collaboration with its allies. A PSI-PSIRU remunicipalisation guide will be launched in 2020 and the PSI-University of Glasgow global remunicipalisation survey is open online.


TNI 2019 Publication: “The Future is Public: Towards Democratic Ownership of Public Services

We Own It “When We Own It. A model for public ownership in the 21st century



This session took place on 5 December during the Future is Public Conference in Amsterdam. Citizens and workers are part of a growing global movement to reclaim and reimagine 'public' services. PANELISTS: Akinbode Oluwafemi, Environmental Rights Action (ERA), Nigeria. Wol-San Liem, Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU). Tommy Albert Tobing, Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation. Adrian Kane, SIPTU – Public Administration & Community Division. Alexander Panez Pinto, Movement for the Defense of Water, Land and Environment, Chile. Miriam Planas, Engineering Without Borders Catalonia, Barcelona. MODERATOR: David McDonald, Municipal Services Project. This session highlighted the opportunities, successes and challenges faced by these organisations.

The Future is Public - Session: Worker & Citizen Alliances in the Fight for Remunicipalisation



Panel that took place on 5 December in Amsterdam during the Future is Public Conference. Video produced by PSI affiliate CUPE

The Future is Public - Session: Transforming public finance for a pro-public future


PSI Photo album from the conference


PSI World Public Service Day 2019 Poster: The remunicipalisation wave

Irish unions’ “More Power to You” campaign

ITF “Our Public Transport” Campaign



The UK Labour Party “Alternative models of public ownership

TNI 2017 Publication “Reclaiming Public Services. How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation” (EN)

TNI 2017 Publication “Remunicipalisation comment villes et citoyens écrivent l'avenir des services publics” (FR)

APSE “Insourcing: A guide to bringing local authority services back in house” UK 2019

Keith Reynolds, Gaëtan Royer and Charley Beresford “Back in house: Why local governments are bringing services home” Columbia Institute and Centre for Civic Governance, Canada 2016 (EN)

Keith Reynolds, Gaëtan Royer and Charley Beresford “Ramener les services à l’interne : pourquoi les gouvernements municipaux mettent fin à la sous-traitance et à la privatisation » Columbia Institute and Centre for Civic Governance, Canada 2016 (FR)

Cumbers, A. “Diversifying Public Ownership Constructing Institutions for Participation, Social Empowerment and Democratic Control

Hall, D. “Remunicipalisation of public services in Europe” PSIRU 2012

Kishimoto, S. Lobina E. Petitjean O. “Our public water future: The global experience with remunicipalisation” Multinationals Observatory (EN)

Kishimoto, S. Lobina E. Petitjean O. « Eau publique, eau d’avenir. L’expérience mondiale de la remunicipalisation » Multinationals Observatory (FR)

CUPE « Guide: Early warning signs of privatization » (EN)

SCFP « Guide : Les signes avant-coureurs de la privatisation » (FR)


TNI Remunicipalisation database

Water remunicipalisation tracker


Videos from social movements and campaigns (5 minutes each)