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Politics

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Un XXIème siècle des services publics

by Olivier Mayer

Public Services: a Priority For This Century

“The Estates-General for Public Services” opened in Paris last Thursday. Debates, demonstrations, and a national petition are scheduled for 2010.

Translated Tuesday 22 December 2009, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

At least thirty organizations met in one of the Mutualité conference halls in Paris last Thursday to launch the “Estates-General of Public Services”. They have decided to launch a grass-roots campaign which will take the form of local debates and initiatives, in order to counter the government’s frontal attack against public services, and in order to imagine “efficient and democratic public and civil services for the 21st century”.

At least thirty organizations met in one of the Mutualité conference halls in Paris last Thursday to launch the “Estates-General of Public Services”. Several trade unions or confederations, the FSU (for education and culture), the Solidaire federation, some CGT unions (General Labour Confederation), the Syndicat de la Magistrature (a lawyers’ union), all of the left-wing parties and movements, notably the socialist, communist and green parties, the new anti-capitalist party (NPA), the party of the left (PG), and unitary left (GU), the alternative left (Alternatifs), together with associations and movements like Attac, the national conference of collectives and committees for public services (hospitals, local maternity hospitals, equal access to health care, feminist associations …) have decided to launch a grass-roots campaign which will take the form of local debates and initiatives, in order to counter the government’s frontal attack against public services, and in order to set out innovative guidelines for “efficient and democratic public and civil services in the 21st century”.

To go on the offensive - rather than remain on the defensive -seems to be a major concern of the rally’s initiators. They propose “a great public debate that might draw upon actual instances of mobilization (without interfering with their dynamics) and could be organized by existing collectives”. Mobilization for education, hospitals and health, culture, rail freight ... was amply reflected in the views exchanged last Thursday.

Issues have been selected around which a citizens’ debate might be structured: “What common goods do we think should be provided as public services?” Water, creches and infant care, top the list of the new fields that should be covered in this way. The socialist party’s spokesman, Benoît Hamon, reminded the assembly of the need for a “public financial pool.” To which Marie-George Buffet, speaking for the communist party, added the “re-nationalization of banks”.

In addition to the question as to which fields to put on the list, other questions were discussed : at what level should these services be organized? Should regional services supply what the State no longer supplies? Along what lines might European or global public services be conceived? Discussions on this theme are sure to be rich and will reveal divergent views. Other issues will provide matter for debate: if everyone agrees that public services should be “democratized”, it is an open question how citizens, staff and elected representatives can be allowed to participate actively in their administration. What legal status civil servants should enjoy? Their present status is the target of Sarkozy’s “destructive pragmatism” (to use the phrase coined by Anicet Le Pors, a former communist minister for civil administration). The RGPP (General Reform of Public Policies) that is being implemented, notably the policy that consists in filling only half the number of posts vacated by those who are retiring, has recently been criticized by the “Cour des comptes” (Government Accounting Office) as being “a purely quantitative approach (…) geared to short-term budgetary criteria”.

The Estates-General’s initiators intend to launch a process around these issues that will extend over the year 2010. They have issued a call for local estates to be held between January and May, before the national estates in June. These might lead to a national petition and to a national demonstration in the autumn. “It is our real intent to debate with all left-wing and social organizations the future of public services,” Pierre Laurent, the communist party’s co-ordinator stated. “We are going to invite all communists to take an active part in this campaign.” As for the unions, the debate proposed meets their current concerns. Beyond the current mobilization, the local public services have programmed a day of action on January 21st and the recent CGT conference has voted for a national campaign on public services.


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