Privatization Threatens the Public Good in Massachusetts
The water we drink. The schools that educate our children. The subways and buses that get us where we need to go — while keeping traffic down and air cleaner. The parks and libraries that enrich our lives, and Unemployment Insurance and other programs that keep us afloat in times of crisis.
These are just some of the public goods and services that provide a foundation for our livelihoods, quality of life, and well-being — before, during, and (someday) after the pandemic. It is easy to take them for granted. But providing this infrastructure for the benefit of all depends on the proper funding and functioning of democratic state and local governments.
Today — especially with the growing economic pressures of COVID-19 — many of our essential public goods and services are threatened by privatization. For decades, the right-wing and big business lobby have insisted that the government should outsource as much as possible to private companies, to be run for a profit in the name of “efficiency.” But history has shown that privatization is often far from efficient — and can create serious problems, including:
- Worse services as private companies cut corners or limit availability to minimize cuts and maximize profit.
- Bad jobs when public jobs with good wages, fair benefits, and union representation are converted into private-sector jobs where employers may bust unions, cut wages, and slash benefits.
- Higher costs for the public when user fees go up, contracts are renegotiated at public expense, and taxpayers end up footing the bill for corporate profit and big CEO salaries.
- Less democratic control as private operators may not be subject to public oversight or freedom of information rules.
- Worsening inequality as bad jobs, higher costs, worse services, and loss of democratic control deepen existing injustice.
The Public Good campaign is fighting to prevent bad privatization deals before they happen by protecting labor standards and ensuring all proposed municipal privatization projects can pass a cost and quality screening by a democratic board representative of city residents.
Privatization undermines racial justice
Privatization threatens good jobs and effective services for Black and brown communities and can create separate-and-unequal services.
The Stakes are Higher than Ever
Publicly-provided services, already weakened by decades of neoliberal policies, are even more threatened in moments of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when public revenue is down and demands on government are climbing, profiteers and privatizers have an opening to step in with false solutions to our urgent problems.
The Privatization Playbook
Right-wing special interest groups’ privatization scheme to underfund public services causes funding gaps in education, healthcare, and public transportation, impacting vital public services.
When companies acquire public services to generate private profit, it is common to see them cut corners to cut costs, reduce workers’ wages and benefits, and shift the burden onto consumers.
Even worse, these private companies are not typically held accountable to the public despite the fact that they control public funds. It’s a vicious process that’s been created to take control away from taxpayers. And unlike private businesses, our communities can’t walk away when things don’t work out.
There is also unprecedented interest in redirecting bloated police funding toward services and policies that proactively improve safety and stability through addressing social and economic needs. And at the same time, there is a growing national and global movement to defend and take back our public services from privatizing corporations who have profited from the right-wing austerity politics of the last few decades.
With this momentum to make our public resources accountable to the public interest, we can further protect and democratize the public good by replicating a law that has been operating successfully at the state level.